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Did Anderson Provide Spark To End Strike?

Tue., Feb. 21, 1995

A single gunshot started the American Civil War, and a simple act of refusing to go to the back of the bus spawned the Civil Rights movement.

So is it possible that Sparky Anderson, by taking his pipe and walking away from the Detroit Tigers, has just ended the baseball strike?

Oh, maybe not yet. There are still no recognizable players in the Florida and Arizona camps, still no settlement on the table.

But, like Mahatma Gandhi’s hunger strikes, Anderson’s refusal to manage replacement players cuts a hole in this baseball war that cannot be stitched with the normal twine.

Wait. Did I just compare Sparky to Gandhi?

Ohmigod. And yet, Sparky has now become - and those of us who know him have to laugh at this - a martyr. A lightning rod. The more the Tigers try to discredit him, the bigger hero he will be in the public’s eyes.

Every story on the strike will now include a reference to Sparky. Already one manager, Sparky Anderson, has refused to work with replacement players. Every ESPN report will toss in his name. He will sit out there in his California garden - which he seems to prefer more and more as he gets older - and grow a few inches in stature every day.

Because, let’s face it, until now, the only casualties of this baseball thing were (1) the players and owners’ pocketbooks, which nobody feels sorry for, (2) the stadium workers, who never get respect, and (3) history, which cannot be appreciated until years later.

But now? Now you have a bona fide loss. The senior manager in the game? Walking away? And make no mistake, while we in Detroit joke about Sparky butchering the English language, around the country, he is seen as a baseball sage, his white hair flapping in the wind.

Sparky is a four-star general, and he’s walking away from the front lines.

Ohmigod. Now I’m comparing him to Patton.

“I’m not going to tarnish the game by accepting this,” Sparky said Friday, before leaving Lakeland, Fla. “I’m looking forward to Opening Day, and I’m looking forward to regular players.

“I’m not looking forward to no replacement thing.”

Good ol’ Sparky. He sure has a way with those double negatives, don’t he?

But did he do the right thing? Well, what’s “right” in this mess? A bunch of millionaires and billionaires arguing over money doesn’t leave you with much right or wrong.

What Sparky did was say: “This is ridiculous.” And he did it in a way that every American can understand. He walked out.

Now owners have to worry if fans will, too.

Already there are enormous holes in their plan. The Baltimore Orioles’ head man, Peter Angelos, says he won’t allow exhibitions against replacement players or come north with a replacement roster. What will baseball do? Have an American League East without Baltimore? Seize his team and force it to play?

The Toronto Blue Jays have told Cito Gaston, their manager, he doesn’t have to work with replacement players during spring training. What will they do, force him to do it come April - in Ontario, where laws prevent scab workers?

San Francisco is facing threats from city leaders saying scabs are not welcome in Candlestick Park. President Clinton has indicated he will not throw out an Opening Day pitch to a scab catcher.

And now there’s Sparky, out there in his garden, saying, “This stuff is so bad, I’ll give up my paycheck rather than be part of it.” Brilliant. How can Mike Ilitch put replacement ball in a major league park now? He’ll be laughed at, while Sparky stages his own personal sit-in.

Ohmigod. I’m comparing him to Abbie Hoffman.

Now, some say Sparky has an obligation to the owner who pays him. They have a point. Others say Sparky knows he can get another job in a second - and probably wants one, given the Tigers pitching staff - so this is all very calculated. Perhaps they are right, too.

It doesn’t matter. Symbols are symbols, and Sparky walking out has put a “Worthless” stamp on replacement ball. And fans don’t want to pay for “Worthless.”

And without replacement ball as leverage, the owners really have no choice but to get back and settle this thing.

So it could be that Sparky Anderson, by getting on that airplane, has just exploded the last grenade that causes this baseball stalemate to crumble.

And we thought all he did was yank pitchers.



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