A caveat before we begin.
When I first started as a freelancer, I was asked to do an interview with Sparky Anderson following the publication of his 1998 memoir, THEY CALL ME SPARKY, which happened to be written with the assistance of Dan Ewald, a sportswriter who worked as public relations director for the Detroit Tigers for almost 20 years; he co-authored two other books with Anderson as well and eventually became his business manager. They developed a friendship that lasted until Anderson’s death in November 2010.
"When I first started as a freelancer, I was asked to do an interview with Sparky Anderson following the publication of his 1998 memoir, THEY CALL ME SPARKY... Anderson...could not have been nicer or more generous with his time. We spoke for almost an hour, and after reading SPARKY AND ME, Ewald’s deeply emotional memoir, I find much of his philosophy reinforced."
As this was my first celebrity encounter, I was fairly nervous. Why should Anderson waste his time with a nobody like me, writing for a scholarly baseball journal? But I committed to the project and made the phone call.
Anderson, the former manager of the Tigers and Cincinnati Reds, could not have been nicer or more generous with his time. We spoke for almost an hour, and after reading SPARKY AND ME, Ewald’s deeply emotional memoir, I find much of his philosophy reinforced.
Anderson --- who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 --- never believed his status merited him special treatment, nor was he overly impressed by the celebrity of others. As Ewald writes (and as Anderson said in our conversation), he believed that the sportswriter with a small-market outfit was worthy of the same courtesy and consideration as members of the national media.
Anderson was the friend of the caddy, the parking valet, the grocery cashier. He probably could have run for public office if he had chosen, but he wouldn’t have won. A cynical electorate would think him too good to be true, like a character out of a Frank Capra movie.
SPARKY AND ME is basically set during the three-day visit Ewald made to Anderson’s home in California when he learned his friend was dying. They spent the time reminiscing about the good times and realistically considering what lay ahead.
According to Ewald, Anderson was not necessarily a formally religious man. But like many good people, he lived by the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would want to be treated. There are dozens of anecdotes the author shares that serve as examples of such a lifestyle.
It must have been a heartbreaking experience for them both, but Anderson’s bravery shines through, even as they shed tears together. When Ewald left, he had plans to come back in a couple of weeks’ time; unfortunately, Anderson passed on before he had that chance. At least they were able to have those three days. We all should be so lucky to have that kind of friendship at least once in our lifetime.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on May 25, 2012