When I was a kid growing up in Hamilton, OH, one would think “Hamilton” Joe Nuxhall would be the Reds icon most revered in the Ramsey household. And although Nuxy certainly was beloved among our family, it was actually Sparky Anderson who was the predominant baseball figure on our plot of Noyes Avenue.
The first dog we ever owned as a family was affectionately named “Sparky.” And although I was too young to have properly experienced the Reds’ 1970s powerhouses, the number “10″ became my favorite because it was the same one worn by the legendary Anderson.
The ’27 Yankees team is the Elvis of baseball. The Big Red Machine is the Beatles. The Fab Four had their mastermind manager in Brian Epstein. The Great Eight had theirs in Sparky. If I was brought into this world innately knowing the lyrics to most Beatles songs, I was also born with the ability to recite names of Reds who played for Sparky Anderson. That’s why it was weird for me in the 80s seeing baseball cards of Pete Rose in a Phillies’ uniform, Tony Perez wearing a Boston cap, Joe Morgan in the Giants’ black and gold, and especially Sparky Anderson wearing a Tigers jersey as white as his hair. It was a reminder that I missed out on the greatest era in Cincinnati baseball history.
I was born in 1976 just a few months before Sparky and his boys celebrated their second-straight world championship. In 2000, the year I began my tenure in the Reds front office, I was lucky enough to meet “George” Anderson. My friend Ben Otto and I drove up to Cooperstown for the weekend Hall of Fame inductions for Perez, Marty Brennaman and Sparky (and Carlton Fisk who many think also won the 1975 World Series). Because of our Reds ties, Ben and I were invited to a gala the night before the induction ceremonies, honoring the new Hall of Famers from Cincinnati. That’s where I first met Sparky. He gave me a firm handshake, a big grin and a sincere “thank you” when I offered him my congratulations.
It would’ve been my most memorable Sparky Anderson “moment” until May 28, 2005 when the Reds retired his jersey number “10.” My colleague Larry Herms and I were given the shared duty of unveiling the “10″ just under the Great American Ball Park pressbox during pregame ceremonies.
The kid who wore that number as a tribute to the great Reds skipper during little league games and on the junior high basketball court was in charge of showing the entire world that no Red would ever again wear it on the back of his jersey. To say I was honored would be the understatement of my life.
I met Sparky again that day, shook his hand and once again received his million-dollar smile. He even signed my “Anderson 10″ jersey that I wore to his Hall of Fame induction just 5 years prior.
Rest in peace, Sparky. Say hi to Nuxy for us.