You never have to meet the general of an army," Sparky Anderson was saying last Saturday in Detroit. "You meet his troops, you know him."
Anderson's troops—a.k.a. the Detroit Tigers—were right outside his office door, preparing to play the New York Yankees for the sixth time in nine days. One of Anderson's men, a veteran known as Mad Dog, was rolling on the floor in his underwear, giggling. A fresh-faced kid appeared to be reading a wrinkled sheet of Reynolds Wrap. A tall fellow stomped around in his socks, complaining that everyone made fun of his alma mater, Azusa Pacific University.
If by his Tigers you know Sparky Anderson—well, let's just say the Detroit skipper must be a little bit flaky.
Anderson's discourse on leadership came after someone had asked him to explain why the Tigers, picked to finish no better than fifth by most preseason guessers, had recovered from an 11-19 start to dog the Yankees and the Blue Jays in a tight AL East race. Some of his players theorize that the June 4 pickup of free agent Bill Madlock, 36, a four-time National League batting champion, had transformed the team into a winner. Madlock, they said, was a great guy to have in the clubhouse.
Anderson's response: a muttered expletive. "I love to listen to players," he said, smiling indulgently. "They call a guy 'a leader in the clubhouse.' What's to lead? Has he got a parade going on? Is he carrying a banner?"
Anderson reached for his pipe. "The only time you hear these things is when a club's winning. Last year Don Baylor was supposed to be the leader for Boston. They were winning. Now they're losing." Anderson's snowy eyebrows went up. "So how come he doesn't lead every damn year?"
If you wanted reasons for the Tigers' turnaround, Anderson seemed to be saying, he had none. A sign by his desk might be pertinent, though. It reads: EACH 24 HOURS THE WORLD TURNS OVER ON SOMEONE WHO IS SITTING ON TOP OF IT.
That, in fact, is exactly what happened on Sunday afternoon when the earth—and the Tigers—rolled over and squashed the Yankees. Madlock rode in the first car of a scoring parade that rocked Yankee pitching for 15 runs. He put the Tigers ahead with a two-run shot in the third as a series of New York pitchers embarrassed themselves. The most effective Yankee thrower among the seven who tried was Rick Cerone—a catcher—who mopped up in the eighth.
The final score was 15-4, which made it three laughers out of four in the year's final matchup with the Yankees and left the Tigers but half a game behind New York and 1� behind Toronto. It also gave their previously skeptical fans hope that, come the first week of October, the most exciting thing in Detroit won't be the Lions versus Tampa Bay.
Since May 11 the Tigers have gone 52-26, the best record in the American League over that stretch. Their success formula, leadership aside, has included names both foreign and familiar. The core of the 1984 world champions is largely intact: the wonderful double-play combination of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker; outfielders Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon and Larry Herndon; slugging first baseman Darrell Evans; and starting pitchers Jack Morris and Dan Petry.