Thoughts from Sparky’s #11 retirement ceremony
Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t hear a lot of stories about Sparky Anderson on Sunday, though the few that were told were pretty good. His daughter, Shirlee Engelbrecht, admitted that even she sometimes didn’t agree with her dad’s decisions to pull the starter.
“I did get caught a couple times booing when Captain Hook would come out,” she said Sunday morning. “I did get up, and one time he noticed when he was coming back [from the mound]. I was screaming with the crowd. But I think he set a trend, because there’s not a whole lot who start a game and finish it now.”
To family, he wasn’t Sparky. He was either George or dad. But he still had the ability to deal with people and get the best out of them.
“One time in fourth grade, I got three D’s, and I was petrified to tell my dad,” Engelbrecht said. “And my mom said I had to. He was sitting on the stairs, and I had to tell him. And I went over and I told him. He said, ‘Young lady, did you do your very best?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I did.’ He said, ‘Did you study? Did you do all your homework assignments?’ And I said, ‘Aw, yeah.’ And then I started realizing what he’s getting at.
“And by the end, he said, ‘If those D’s are your best, those are A’s to me. And if it’s not your very best, then do something about it.’ And I did. I brought them up.”
Sparky’s kids brought out a side very few of us had heard about, but a reflection of what many knew all along, that he had a big heart off the field. His former players reflected that more in lessons than in quotes.
“I still live to this today: It’s not rocket science, as he used to put it,” Dan Petry said. “It’s just to treat people like you would want to be treated. That’s pretty easy. You don’t want to be treated poorly by people and be run over and abused. That’s the way Sparky lived each and every day, that no matter who you were or how high on the totem pole or anything, everybody was treated the same.”
The best quote of the entire weekend, I thought, came from Larry Herndon. When he asked if there was one big lesson he learned from Sparky, he summed it up like this:
“I was an average ballplayer,” he said, “and so my ability took me as far as I could go. But being around Sparky taught me I didn’t have to be an average man or an average person.”