The Longest Game of Sparky’s Career

Sparky Anderson, shown in this October 1, 1995 file image, had died in his home in Thousand Oaks, California, according to family members, on November 4, 2010. Anderson, shown before a MLB between Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers game, led the Cincinnati Reds to World Series titles in 1975 and 1976 and led the Tigers to the 1984 title.  REUTERS/Joe Giza/Files  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT OBITUARY BASEBALL)

In his 26 years as a major league manager – managing almost non-stop from 1970 through 1995 – Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson managed many memorable games and led some of the game’s greatest players to the promised land. With five World Series appearances (including three Championships) and two more first-place finishes, Tigers and Reds fans through the Sparky years never had much to complain about.

In all that time – over 4,000 regular season games – Sparky was involved in only four games that lasted into the 18th inning or longer. In 1972, the Reds outlasted the Dodgers in 19 innings when pinch-hitter Joe Hague singled in pinch-runner Ted Uhlaender to walk-off with the 2-1 victory. In 1982, the Tigers beat the Indians in an 18-inning marathon 4-3, after Alan Trammell scored on a wild pitch from Ed Glynn. The Tigers then lost a 19-inning game to the Indians in 1984 and an 18-inning game to the Yankees in 1988. Four out of four-thousand – that doesn’t sound like that an unreasonable of a ratio.

Which makes what happened in 1966 all the more interesting. In his third year as a minor-league manager – he would go on to manage five total years in the minors, ending with a record of 395-295 – Sparky found himself in the single-A Florida State League managing the St. Petersburg Cardinals in their first year as a Cardinals affiliate.

On June 14, the Cards hooked up with the Miami Marlins to play what was at the time the longest game ever played in organized baseball, a 29-inning, seven-hour affair that had Sparky sitting “in secluded silence” upon its finale.

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The Cardinal locker room afterward resembled a Red Cross hospital in Viet Nam. Players were lying all over, totally exhausted from the grueling experience.

“Those people saw things out there they’ll never see in any other game,” first baseman Terry Milani said. “But we lost it… I don’t care if we did set any records, what good does it do when you lose.”

Manager Sparky Anderson sat in secluded silence, not believing what happened.

“Sure we made history, but can we win?” he said. “I thought this game would draw out to at least 30 innings… a game like this can go on and on and on. It was the damndest game I have ever seen.”

Good ol’ Sparky, always looking for one more inning.

There were four future major leaguers who played for the Cards that night, though the immortal Jerry Robertson (with 194 career innings pitched in two seasons) was the best of the bunch. The Marlins, whose top major league players that night were Charlie Sands and Frank Tepedino, weren’t much better. Miami did get 11 innings of relief out of Paul Gilliford, who had pitched seven innings the night before as the starter. The game ended when, after loading the bases with one out, Miami managed a deep sac fly to bring in the deciding run.

At the time, Sparky was a 32-year old, third-year minor league manager who was seven years removed from his taste of the major leagues. It doesn’t take all that much to understand why Sparky would say something like this (to Bob Bruns):

“Brunsie, this is the only way I know of that I could make Cooperstown… and after this game we just played, I think I have a pretty good chance.”

Turns out Sparky had a much, much better reason for getting into Cooperstown.

Sparky Anderson passed away earlier today at the much-too-young age of 76 from complications of dementia. As I said before, baseball lost a good one today. Although my only experience with Sparky growing up was through his baseball cards, that grizzled, white-haired, perpetually-75-year-old visage really did help inform my view of the baseball world (it turns out baseball wasn’t just filled with Mark McGwires and Jose Cansecos – who knew?). He’ll not only be missed in Cincinnati and Detroit, but all around the sport.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.