Ethics Hero Emeritus: Sparky Anderson (1934-2010)

Maybe I shouldn’t call someone an Ethics Hero for behaving like all normal, considerate people ought to behave. Maybe that sets the bar too low. Still, when I learned of the recent death of Sparky Anderson, the Hall of Fame baseball manager who won World Series titles with both the Tigers and the Reds, I remembered an indelible personal incident that forever defined my impression of him.

I was at a convention in Chicago, and the Tigers were visiting the White Sox and staying at my hotel. By chance, I passed Anderson in the lobby. He was easy to recognize, with his weathered features and white hair, and as we passed, I just said, casually, “Hi, Sparky.” To my amazement he whipped around with a big smile, and shook my hand. “Hey, good to meet you!” he said. “You staying here?”  “I am, ” I replied. “Well, have a great time,” he said. “Now I got a meeting to go to.” He shook my hand again, and was gone.

Apparently Sparky Anderson was always like that: open and friendly to strangers, always polite and humble, never acting the part of a big shot, which, in the rarefied world of professional baseball, he surely was. I’ve met a lot of celebrities over the years, and almost all of them maintain a distant, “we are from different worlds you and I” air about them. If they are friendly at all, it is a mechanical, this-is-my-job kind of friendliness until and unless you show you have something, have done something or might do something that makes you worth knowing. Not Sparky. His genuine courtesy and openness would have been a pleasure to experience from anyone, but coming from a famous sports figure in his prime, it was both a surprise and a gift. He made me feel good (and it had been a rotten day).

I bet Sparky Anderson made strangers feel good every day of his life, if only for a little while. Instead of using his celebrity to brush people off, he used it to make the rest of us happy. He didn’t have to. It was just a good, generous, kind way to be, and Sparky was a nice guy. I would guess that being a nice guy was as important to Sparky Anderson as winning all those pennants.

So maybe just working at being a nice guy and treating strangers like they mattered isn’t worthy of being an Ethics Hero, but what the heck. You made me feel good, Sparky, when you didn’t have to. You’re my hero.

And I just want to thank you.


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