I was saddened to learn the news today that former Tigers/Reds manager Sparky Anderson had died at the age of 76. He brought a lot of baseball excitement to the city of Detroit in the 1980s. 

The news seems to have spawned a lot of animosity toward Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and why he didn’t honor the manager who owns more wins while wearing the old English D. The man is, after all, in Cooperstown. If not a statue, then at least retire his number. 

I recall my parents taking my sister and me to the first Little Caesars Pizzeria in Garden City, back in the 1960s. While I can’t confirm it, I imagine it was Mike Ilitch in the kitchen making the pies back then. 

I’ve a lot of respect for the man. He’s done a lot for the city of Detroit. In the aftermath of the limo accident in the mid ’90s that ended the career of Red Wing Vladimir Konstantinov, he took care of “my boys.” He’s honored Steve Yzerman and has acknowledged other Red Wing greats for their contribution to the game of hockey.

Ilitch even allowed Westland native Mike Modano to call Joe Louis Arena “home ice” for one more season at the end of his Hall of Fame career.

Yet I’m saddened that he didn’t honor Sparky Anderson as the Tigers’ all-time greatest manager when it mattered to Sparky. We may never know the real reason; but it’s speculated that it has to do with Sparky’s reluctance to manage replacement players as the 1995 baseball campaign edged nearer. 

If this indeed is what started the rift, Ilitch no doubt felt, as the boss, that Anderson should do as he was told; he was, after all, under Ilitch’s employ. On the other hand, Anderson believed that he was being asked to do something that was an affront to the integrity of game, and he held true to that ideal.

Whether Mike Ilitch or I agree with that credo is immaterial. I’ve disagreed with a lot of people over the years, but I’d fight for anyone’s right to opine a differing point of view. 

Whatever Mr. Ilitch’s reasons—and it’s been suggested that Anderson’s choice to enter Cooperstown as a Cincinnati Red is among them—he has to live with them and himself. The game is bigger than owners, managers and players, even if they can’t see that. If you don’t believe me, well, I can show you where Ruth and Cobb are buried. 

If Mr. Ilitch won’t honor George Anderson, the next Tigers owner likely will.

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