THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Sparky Anderson, 76, the white-haired Hall of Fame manager who directed Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to back-to-back World Series championships and won another one in Detroit, died Thursday.
Mr. Anderson, who also played second base for the 1959 Phillies, died from complications from dementia, family spokesman Dan Ewald said. A day earlier, Mr. Anderson's family said he had been placed in hospice care.
Mr. Anderson was the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues and the only manager to lead two franchises in career wins.
His Reds teams featuring Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan that won crowns in 1975 and 1976 rank among the most powerful of all time. Led by Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell, the Tigers won in 1984 with Mr. Anderson at the helm.
Mr. Anderson's win total of 2,194 was the third highest when he retired after the 1995 season, trailing only Connie Mack and John McGraw. He's still sixth on the career list - he won 863 games in nine years with the Reds and 1,331 in 17 seasons with the Tigers.
Always affable and ever talkative, Mr. Anderson was equally popular among players, fans, and the media.
"Revered and treasured by his players for his humility, humanity, eternal optimism, and knowledge of the game," his Hall of Fame plaque reads.
Jack Morris helped the Tigers win their most recent title. The rugged pitcher choked up during a telephone conversation from his home in the Twin Cities when he was informed of Mr. Anderson's death.
"Baseball will have very few people like Sparky," Morris said. "He was a unique individual. He was a character with a great passion and love for the game."
At Mr. Anderson's request, there will be no funeral or memorial service.
George "Sparky" Anderson got his nickname in the minor leagues because of his spirited play. He made it to the majors for only one season, batting .218 for the Phillies in 1959.
Mr. Anderson learned to control a temper that nearly scuttled his fledgling career as a manager in the minors, and went on to become one of baseball's best at running a team. And Mr. Anderson won with a humility that couldn't obscure his unique ability to manage people.
"I got good players, stayed out of their way, let them win a lot, and then just hung around for 26 years," he said during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2000.
Ewald knew Mr. Anderson for about 35 years as a former Tigers spokesman and baseball writer for the Detroit News.
"Sparky Anderson will always be measured by his number of victories and his place in baseball's Hall of Fame," Ewald said. "But all of that is overshadowed by the type of person he was. Sparky not only spiked life into baseball, he gave life in general something to smile about.
"Never in my lifetime have I met a man as gentle, kind, and courageous as Spark."
Mr. Anderson's win total trails only those of Mack, McGraw, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. His overall record was 2,194-1,834, and he was a two-time AL manager of the year.
While Mr. Anderson was often surrounded by top players, there was more to his ability than merely filling out a lineup card.
He had the right touch with superstars, and it came in handy when he led the star-studded Reds to World Series wins in 1975 and '76. He won four National League pennants in Cincinnati from 1970 to '78, then was stung when the Reds fired him after consecutive second-place finishes.
Mr. Anderson took his disappointment to the other league and won there, too, directing the Tigers to the 1984 championship and a division title in 1987. He was voted into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee.
The only notable thing about Mr. Anderson as a player was his prematurely graying hair and his nickname. He was playing for Fort Worth in the Texas League in 1955 when a radio announcer, taken by his feisty play, started calling him Sparky.
The name stuck. He didn't. Mr. Anderson made it to the majors with the Phillies in 1959 and singled home the go-ahead run on opening day in Cincinnati, which turned out to be the highlight of his playing career. A light-hitting second baseman, he had 12 extra-base hits - zero home runs - and 34 RBIs in 477 at-bats.
He was back in the minors the next year - replaced by the popular Tony Taylor - and soon realized it was time to think about another career.
He decided to try managing, and that worked out just fine.