To apply an old line to an old manager, Sparky Anderson doesn't have to be naked to count to 21. We know this because just the other day he mentioned the importance of mathematics. "You have to know your math," he said. "In school, I used to be finished with my math so early, I'd go to the bathroom, come back, and they'd still be workin' on it. Now, when a contractor's throwin' numbers together, I know if they add up." Sparky looks you square in the eye and taps his right index linger to a snow-white temple.
"But English?" he continues. "What's the difference? If you're a writer, yeah, you gotta put it all in there or you'll get letters from teachers. But I see now they're even puttin' ain't in the dictionary, so I'm good, man." Sparky beams. "I'm covered."
He is a learned man. Sparky frequently precedes his serpentine sentences with the phrase "There's one thing I've learned." There's one thing he's learned...and that one thing is something different every time. "There's one thing I've learned," says Sparky. "Live today the way today's lived. Every father walked through snowstorms to get to school. That's not today. Things change, so change with 'em."
"He's changed with us and the times," confirms shortstop Alan Trammell, a Tiger since 1977. "He changed the dress code this year. He now lets us wear nice jeans—nice jeans—on the road. But not on airplanes. You still have to wear slacks and a sport coat on airplanes. For the first time in my lifetime, except for the World Series, wives were allowed on one of the road trips. It's the '90s, and he understands that."
"I wish that when I started managing, I understood the needs of the players," says Sparky. "My first concern now is them. When I started managing, my first concern was me. Meeee. I don't know why you can't put it all together when you're young."
Life should be lived backward. ("Thaaaat's right," agrees Sparky.) If it were, think of all that this man would have to look forward to: managing the Tigers, then the Reds, then nine years of playing and managing in the minor leagues. A big break comes in 1959 when Sparky is called up to the last-place Philadelphia Phillies and hits .218 in the only 477 major league at bats of his career. After six more years in the minors, it is off to L.A.'s Dorsey High, where Sparky and the baseball team win 42 consecutive games. By 1951 he is playing shortstop for Crenshaw Post No. 715, which wins the American Legion national championship at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, the ballpark now called Tiger Stadium.
"When I'm here, I'm at home," Sparky says while sitting in the Tiger dugout, the very same one the Crenshaw Post team used 42 years ago. "There are days when I'm at home and I say, 'Oh, Christ,' I say to my wife. 'I don't mean this against you, but when I'm here' "—Sparky is back at the ballpark now—" 'I'm home.' "
"You have to realize that everything revolves around baseball for George," says Tiger coach Billy Consolo. "It is the only thing he has ever wanted to do. Other kids had hobbies. For George it has always been baseball."
When both boys were eight years old, George Anderson met Billy Con-solo on the Rancho Playground in Los Angeles. The Andersons had just moved west from Bridgewater, S.Dak., and the Consolos had come from Cleveland. George and Billy were best of friends through high school and Legion ball, and a lifetime later, in June 1979, Sparky asked his friend to join his staff in Detroit.
"I'd been out of baseball for so long at that point that I really wanted to be around for a while," says Consolo, who played for 10 years in the major leagues. "So before the press conference that announced George as manager, I asked him not to make any statements that would put us in a hole."