Baseball's Top Managers and How They Got That Way
by Leonard Koppett
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Do I like Sparky because his opinions agree with mine? Certainly not. I have the opinions I do because I've been smart enough to listen to Sparky and people like him. Our ideas coincide, when they do, because that's where I got them.
And I like something else about him, pertinent here. More than most, he has a sense of baseball history and baseball's place in the culture, in the emotional niche it fills for the people who follow it. He understands, even as a winaholic, that while winning is his business it's not our business -- we the followers and enjoyers of it.
Ironically, it was just those attributes that drove him out of baseball. The 1991 Tigers were weak again (sixth), but the 1993 squad came in third with 85-77 and improving prospects. But the 1994 season ended abruptly and inconclusively when the players went on strike in early August. The postseason games, including the World Series, were canceled. As the labor war continued, the clubs decided to use "replacement players" for 1995. To the union, these would be "scabs." But to Sparky, they represented a travesty and a desecration of "major league baseball" standards, which he had always worshipped. Refusing to have anything to do with such sacrilege, he stayed out of spring training, taking a "leave of absence."
Many an ownership would have fired him on the spot, but the Tigers weren't like that. Whatever his bosses felt privately, they accepted his decision and proceeded without him. When the strike was settled in late March, Sparky came back to his "real" players for an abbreviated training season and shortened 144-game schedule, in which his team went 60-84. But it was understood he wouldn't be back in 1996.
No other offers came along, so his career was complete after 26 years, with 2,194 victories and a .545 winning percentage. He was 61. He hadn't caught up with McGraw or Mack, but he compiled the best record of his time, and that's honor enough.
Excerpted and reproduced from The Man In The Dugout, Expanded Edition: Baseball's Top Managers & How They Got That Way by Leonard Koppett, by permission of Temple University Press.
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