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In reply Sparky gushes to Gibson the news he has just heard about the brawl in Anaheim. "They said there were something like 18 different fights," sputters Sparky. "No, no, an 18-minute fight. They said it was great! And it was Ball Night, and the fans were throwin' the baseballs at 'em!"
"Always happens with Ball Night," says Gibson, a grin curling in one corner of his mouth. "Be a shaaame if that happened here, wouldn't it?"
Two hours later, before 16,532 fans, Sparky is on the third base line, giving home plate umpire Dale Ford the international up-yours sign: Clutching his right biceps with his left hand, Sparky thrusts his right fist upward. Ford, who has just made an egregious call behind the plate, sheepishly ejects Sparky. As he leaves the field. Sparky stops to greet a friend of his who happens to be umpiring third base. "You're outstanding, Richie," he tells Richie Garcia, apropos of nothing. "Outstanding."
That's Sparky. He can't help himself. There's one thing he has learned, and his father, Leroy, taught it to him when he was 11 years old: Being nice doesn't cost anything. "Doesn't cost a dime." says Sparky. "Look at Alan Trammel!. I call him Huckleberry Finn. You would never know to talk to him that he's accomplished all that he has."
"He taught me that," says Trammell. "He taught me that when I was 21 and looking for direction, when I thought I knew it all and didn't. And I still appreciate that. It is a pleasure to play for him, not just because he'll be in the Hall of Fame as a manager, but because of the kind of person he is."
A flight attendant drew Sparky aside as the Tigers were deplaning from a recent charter flight. She told him that she and her crew had just flown a National League team into St. Louis, and the players had turned that trip into an ugly airborne bacchanal. She thanked this skipper for his tight ship.
"Thank me?" responded Sparky. "Let me ask you something. Isn't this the way it's supposed to be? Why not be nice on an airplane? Why not be nice when you're out in society? Why give me credit for acting the way people are supposed to act?"
Leroy Anderson died during the historic 35-5 run that began the Tigers' championship season of 1984. But Sparky's mother, Shirley, is still alive. "And I wouldn't embarrass her for the world," says Sparky. "I'm in a restaurant, that waitress could be my mother, could be my sister. If the food stinks, don't go back. But don't get all worked up and take it out on the waitress. Treat everybody as if they're somebody, because they are. That's one thing I've learned."
A homemade sign in his office reads EACH 24 HOURS, THE WORLD TURNS OVER ON SOMEONE WHO IS SITTING ON TOP OF IT. That is Sparky. Another sign says A MAN NEVER STANDS so TALL AS WHEN HE STOOPS TO HELP A CRIPPLED CHILD. That is also Sparky. The sign above the office door through which Sparky passes most days reads ATTITUDE. Every week when the Tigers are at home he takes his extraordinary attitude to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, spreading joy among ailing children like some antidisease.
On his last visit Sparky tried to cheer a boy who was awaiting skin grafts to his face. The child had nearly been electrocuted. Ten thousand volts had surged through his body. Seven days later, two hours before a game 300 miles from Detroit, Sparky still can't shake thoughts of the kid.