Sept. 12 2012 12:00 AM

New memoir details author's friendship with Sparky Anderson


Dan Ewald has written 13 books focusing on renowned Michigan sports figures, including Bo Schembechler, Al Kaline and George Kell, but he says his new book “Sparky and Me,” a biography of legendary Detroit Tigers manager George “Sparky” Anderson, may disappoint people.

“It is not a baseball book,” said Ewald, speaking from his home in Troy, Mich. “Sure there are baseball stories in it, but these stories show the development of one friendship for 32 years.”

Ewald has spent his entire adult life devoted to baseball, first writing about it as a sports reporter for The Detroit News and then working as the public relations director for the Tigers for 18 years. Ewald describes how Anderson brought his complex philosophies about life to the diamond, making him one of the game’s most successful managers. Ewald began writing the book in 2010 shortly after Anderson’s death at age 76. The book contains many “Sparky-isms,” such as “Learn to treat people well — it doesn’t cost a dime.” 

“Sparky could make people feel important,” Ewald said. “He could make people he never met before feel as if he was their best friend.” 

Anderson won three World Series in his career, two for the Cincinnati Reds and one for the Detroit Tigers. In the book, Ewald relates how when Anderson joined the Tigers in 1979, the roster was packed with hungry young players such as Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson.

“They had raw talent,” Ewald said. “They just didn’t have that one piece, and Sparky was the person to pull it together. He created a bond between himself and his players. This loyalty has never been repeated in baseball, and may never be again.” 

That mutual devotion culminated in the four-games-to-one 1984 World Series victory over the San Diego Padres, but the bond between Ewald and Anderson was cemented far sooner when Anderson approached him and suggested a game-to-game diary of a championship season —before the first game was even played. That book, eventually entitled “Bless You Boys,” was co-authored by the pair, and tells of that remarkable season in baseball history when the Tigers started with a roar, going 35-5 in their first 40 games. Ewald said Anderson had the confidence before the season began that they would win it all. 

“I didn’t and (that 35-5 start) will never happen in baseball again,” Ewald said.

Ewald recently returned from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, where he says he affectionately rubbed Anderson’s plaque. Ewald said it was through Anderson he learned that the game is beautiful.

“He was a celebrity and I was a nobody,” he says. “And we were still friends. I can’t tell you how it happened that we became best friends. We just did.”

However, the author does lament the loss of colorful characters like his friend. 

“Where have these romantic characters gone?” he asks. “It can’t happen again. The game has become too corporate. But I’ve never lost my love for the game.”

Ewald’s book is about two guys hanging around on one of the biggest stages in sports, but still maintaining a friendship built by a simple life and simple principles. He underlines Anderson’s dislike of ostentation, relating the story of how when Anderson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, the Ford family provided him with a luxury van outfitted with a banner that said, “Sparky’s Ride to the Hall of Fame.” 

“He immediately removed it and courteously handed it to one of the men who had delivered it,” Ewald says. “One of Sparky’s sayings was, ‘You can’t put a tuxedo on a pig.’” 

Ewald describes Anderson’s cracker-jack comedic sensibility, such as a moment during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony which began with the audience giving him a standing ovation.

“Sparky told them, ‘Please sit down. I learned a long time ago in baseball when they stand up, they’re getting ready to boo.’”

Ewald’s book is not all fun and games, especially when he writes about Anderson’s distaste for the strike-shortened baseball season of 1995. Ewald said most of all, though, his friend was a thorough teacher. 

“His lessons went beyond the game,” he writes. “He taught me all the unwritten rules that apply as much to life as they do to sports. Sparky liked to say, ‘Wisdom isn’t reserved for people with fancy degrees.’”

Ewald heartbreakingly recounts Anderson’s diagnosis with dementia and his subsequent brutal decline. These are tender moments between two friends, who share a half of lifetime of experiences. You will shed a tear — make no mistake about that.

As Anderson once told Ewald: “We’re lucky, Daniel, my boy. We certainly are lucky.”

And readers are lucky that Ewald has written about this very special friendship.

Discussion with Dan Ewald
Author of “Sparky and Me: My Friendship with Sparky Anderson and the Lessons He Shared About Baseball and Life”
7 p.m. Sept. 12
Schuler Books & Music
2820 Towne Center Blvd.