There was a time that I didn’t really know that the Cleveland Indians existed. But I knew about the Cincinnati Reds, and I knew about the white-haired guy who guided the Reds through most of the 1970s.
I was a huge baseball fan back then, an easy thing for an Ohio kid when the team you listened to on the radio every day and every night had Bench and Perez and Rose and Foster and Concepcion and Geronimo and Griffey and Morgan and Gullett and Borbon … and Sparky Anderson, their manager.
I know there were playoff runs early in the decade, including a series loss to Baltimore in 1970s, but my memories really start with the 1975 season, when Sparky moved Pete Rose from left field to first base early in the season to make room for George Foster — who proceeded to hit something like 25 home runs and bat .300 for the remainder of the year, adding even more power to an already insanely talented offense.
My memories of the 1975 series are so solid because I was allowed to stay up to watch the games — that wasn’t the chore it usually is these days, but still, Game Six, won by that damn Carlton Fisk home run, went long (11 innings? 12?). But I got to see every pitch of what might have been the best series ever, won by what might have been the best team ever.
The Reds swept the Yankees the following year, and then I gave up on baseball for a while; during that offseason, much of the team was shipped out, and my 10-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend that the business side of baseball might somehow overrule the notion that HELLO, YOU’RE UNLOADING THE BEST TEAM EVER.
Of course, through the miracle of cable television, I discovered the Indians a few years later, and by then Sparky had been the manager of the divisional rivals in Detriot for a while. It was easy to hate the Tigers — there’s that whole Michigan thing — but I could never hate Sparky. He helped give me some of my favorite memories of my childhood, and for that, I will always be grateful.