It is a beguiling package. Hence this informal study of the man, this Sparkaeological expedition, which begins with our subject about to address reporters. Full-volume heavy-metal music coming from the clubhouse threatens to blow Sparky's closed office door from its hinges.
How are ya, Sparky?
"If they'd turn that noise down, I'd be fine," he says. "But go ahead, gentlemen, with whatever maaarrrlous questions you have."
In response to an inquiry about Rob Deer's condition, Sparky mentions that the Tiger rightfielder is being placed on the disabled list. "He moved his neck yesterday and it hurt in the bottom of his back, and that's not good, no-hooo," explains Dr. Anderson. He then acknowledges that a certain Tiger is indeed unhappy on the bench. Admits Sparky, "He don't wanna not play."
A man delivers the mail. Sparky rescues The Sporting News and Golf World from the teetering pile, then puts on his black-framed reading glasses. Hideous human screams, independent of the stereo, come from beyond his door, followed by the crashing of clubhouse furniture.
"It's never lonesome here," Sparky says without looking up from his Golf World. "That's the nice thing."
Lonesome? Sparky would need a Rolodex the size of a riverboat paddle wheel to catalog his friends. If you went to third grade with George Anderson, he probably remembers your name. It's the names of opposing players that occasionally elude Sparky. He is aware of this dread affliction, which is why the other day he said apologetically of a California Angel catcher, "I call him Tingley." (The catcher's name is Tingley.) Sparky gets no help from Detroit's famously malaprop scoreboard, on which Chicago White Sox centerfielder Lance Johnson once became LANCE LANCE and Seattle Mariner relievers Russ Swan and Dwayne Henry were gene-spliced into one ambidextrous man named SWAN HENRY.
For a moment during one game last season, the Tiger Stadium scoreboard actually read AT BAT NUMBER 11 SPARKY ANDERSON. Given Sparky's maddeningly Byzantine lineup changes, this could actually come to pass. While making a substitution the other day, Sparky told an umpire, "I'm puttin' only one guy in here, but there'll be five movements out there, don't pay no attention to 'em."
But even as he is calling the Cleveland Indians' Paul Sorrento "Sarmiento," precise details of his own life remain stuck in Sparky's brain like lawn darts. Thus, George Anderson was raised at 1087 West 35th Street in Los Angeles. He was fired by "Cincinnatuh" team president Dick Wagner on Nov. 28, 1978, in room 1118 of the airport Marriott in Los Angeles. He was hired by the Detroit Baseball Club on June 12, 1979. He went to bed at 12:27 last night and arose at 7:45 this morning.
Sparky has a prodigious memory in many areas. The only thing that has acquired more lines than Sparky's face is Sparky himself. He remembers every felicitous phrase he has ever heard. In this regard he envies his friend and former minor league teammate Tommy Lasorda. "Tommy said in his book that he was so poor growing up that he could tell when he stepped on a nickel if it was heads or tails," says Sparky. "Man, how great. How he comes up with 'em, I don't know."