Like many who grew up in Cincinnati during the Big Red Machine era, I am deeply saddened by the death of its pilot, Sparky Anderson.  He went from “Sparky Who” to one of the most beloved sports figures in Cincinnati history in nine short years, due not only to his success as a manager, but also to the fact that he was a genuinely nice guy.

On July 21, 1974, the Reds were returning from Chicago where they had defeated the Cubs 8-2 and cut the Dodgers’ lead to five and a half games in their final series before the All-Star break.  That afternoon, I went to the Cincinnati Airport with some friends and their parents to welcome the Reds back to town.

We arrived at the gate—back in the days that you could actually do that—to find that we weren’t the only people to have this great idea.  A crush of fans was waiting there as well.   Walking from the gate back to the baggage claim, I managed to get Reds broadcasters Joe Nuxhall and Waite Hoyt to sign the one piece of paper I brought.

At the baggage claim, I walked outside to see if I might find a player away from the crowds.  Finding none, I stood near the curb for a moment.  I must have looked pretty forlorn because I had only gotten autographs from a couple broadcasters and no players.

The back window of a limo rolled down and a white haired man popped his head out and said, “Come here, kid.”

It was Sparky.  He must have noticed the disappointed looking 13 year old standing by the curb. I handed him my piece of paper and he signed it.

He then looked at it closer and said, “Me, Hoyt and Nuxxy. Hang on to this, kid, it’ll be worth somethin’ someday.”  He was right.  Three Hall of Famers on one piece of paper. 

Thankfully, I did.

Tom Walsh is the Founder of The Ultimate Sports List at This article was originally published on the blog at

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