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Sparky cleared his throat that day and announced to a throng of reporters, "We'll win it all in five years."
"And I thought, I'm back to bartering in five years," says Consolo, who had a world-championship ring exactly five years later.
Postscript: For the sheer euphony of the phrase, it should be noted here that Sparky played with Spanky. The Rancho Playground was next to the MGM studio lot, and the Little Rascals and other child stars of the day often played sandlot ball there with George and Billy. Billy cannot confirm with certainty that Spanky played with Sparky. "But," he says, "I know we did play with Buckwheat."
Sparky hates to travel. Those who know him say he remains in his hotel room on road trips, bingeing on CNN's Headline News. It is one of the little joys in his life. Sparky goes "Around the World in 30 Minutes" several times a day, and that is enough travel for one man. When Carol Anderson recently asked her husband of 40 years if he would like to experience the breathtaking sweep of the Grand Canyon, Sparky issued the only one-word answer of his life: "No."
If Sparky were a test, he would have no short-answer section. Sparky Anderson is all essay. It is a rainy Monday afternoon in Chicago, and Sparky sits tugging on a pipe in the visiting manager's office at Comiskey Park. He is staring trancelike at the portable TV that rests, on a desk, two feet from his face. But Sparky looks up from the College World Series on ESPN to consider this question: You don't enjoy traveling anymore, do you?
"When you first start out young," says Sparky, throwing out a triple redundancy for openers, "you enjoy all of the travel. The first time I had a suite, my god! But as time goes on, you get spoiled. You're spoiled in the major leagues, let's face it. Phil Niekro said it best. They asked him why he continued to play on and on all those years, and he said, 'Nobody ever gives you meal money in real life.' And it's true. The air travel is first-class. The hotels, outstanding. We're spoiled, and it's as simple as that. Half of us wouldn't know how to get a plane ticket in the wintertime.
"In 24 years I've learned something, a trick, I do this religiously. When I'm on the road, nobody sees me. Period. I do not socialize at any time on the road. I'm up at a quarter to eight, and I do the little radio show I have. Most of these hotels have a room with coffee, juice, fruit and sweet rolls, and sometimes I take that back to my room. I watch CNN. I'll watch CNN for four trips around. I'll know every single thing that's happening in sports and business, the world. I watched the news from Bosnia four times today. Then I'll go back to bed and cut off the phone. I went back to bed at ten-oh-seven this morning and got up at five after one."
He has been known to exhaust entire stenography pools with a single answer, but Sparky refuses formal speaking engagements. In Cincinnati in the 1970s folks said grace before every meal, and the manager of the Big Red Machine made a few remarks after the meal. But no more. Because now he is certain of who he is. "The biggest misconception about me is that I'm an extrovert," he says. "I'm an introvert. My real name is George, and that's the name I like best, and it's who I am. Sparky was given to me as a player, and it stayed with me. It's great that people recognize me for that. But George is who I am, and when I hit spring training, it takes me four or five days to become Sparky again. My wife, she always knows when I switch over from George to Sparky."
But even after he blooms each spring, not everyone calls him Sparky. Consolo calls him George year-round, and Consolo is not alone. "If he hears someone in the crowd say "Sparky,' he might not turn around," says Consolo. "But if he hears someone say 'George,' he'll turn around, because he knows it's someone he went to school with." Another man who calls him George is American League umpire Al Clark, who explained three years ago, "I refuse to call a 56-year-old man with white hair Sparky."
"The job is like any other job," says Sparky. "It's a selling job, and I have to be extroverted to sell the players I want to sell."