Sparky Anderson began his professional baseball career as a second baseman in the Dodger organization. Signed by Brooklyn as a teenager, Anderson’s first pro season was in 1953 for the Dodger C-Level team in Santa Barbara.
In the collection is this letter written by a 20-year old Anderson to longtime Dodger executive Fresco Thompson in 1954. Anderson asks about the Colombian Winter League that’s due to start in mid-October.
The youngster writes about his eagerness to make arrangements for a passport for travel. Three months shy of his 21st birthday, Sparky has signed his full legal name, “George Lee Anderson”.
Anderson played 11 pro seasons, one at the Major League level with the Phillies. That came in 1959 when he hit .218 in 152 games with the big club. From there, Anderson played for the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs.
Immediately after Sparky ended his playing career, he immediately began managing. His first season as a pilot came in 1964 with the same Toronto team he played for the year before.
In 1965 Cardinals General Manager Bob Howsam hired Anderson to manage the Single-A Rock Hill Cardinals. He remained in the St. Louis organization through the ’68 season.
In 1969 Anderson was hired by the expansion San Diego Padres as third base coach. By then, Howsam had moved to Cincinnati to become the Reds GM.
On October 8, 1969, Howsam shocked the baseball world by appointing the 35-year old Anderson as skipper of the Reds. The move paid immediate dividend. In 1970 Cincinnati won 102 games and the National League pennant.
During his nine years with the Reds, Sparky’s team finished first or second eight times. The run included four NL pennants and two World Series championships.
Cincinnati won 92 games in ’78 to finish 2 1/2 games behind the Dodgers. The Reds fired Sparky at the end of the season. In mid-June the following year the Tigers came calling for his services.
Sparky led Detroit for the next 17 years. The highlight of his time with the Tigers in 1984. That season the Tigers began the year with nine straight wins. Forty games into the season their record stood at 35-5. Detroit led the division the whole way to become the first team since the ’27 Yankees to lead wire-to-wire on their way to a ring.
Autographs from this early in his professional career remain exceedingly difficult to find.