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On This Date in Sports November 28, 1978: End of the Machine

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In a stunning move, the Cincinnati Reds announce the firing of Sparky Anderson, replacing him with John McNamara. In nine seasons in Cincinnati, Anderson posted a record of 863-586, winning five division titles, four pennants and two World Series. However, after two straight second-place finishes, General Manager Dick Wagner wanted a change and made the move shortly after the team completed an off-season tour of Japan.

George Anderson, who earned the nickname Sparky, was born on February 22, 1934, in Bridgewater, South Dakota. At the age of eight, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, which provided him the opportunity to immerse himself into the sport of baseball as served as a batboy for the USC baseball team. In 1953, he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but spent most of his career in the minor leagues, with his only season in the majors coming with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959. In 1964 after his playing career ended, Sparky Anderson became a manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.

After serving as a coach on the expansion San Diego Padres, Sparky Anderson was named the manager by the Cincinnati Reds, replacing Dave Bristol for the 1970 season. The move was met with skepticism at first, as the 36-year-old was not widely known. However, after winning 102 games and leading the Reds to the pennant in his first season, it was clear Cincinnati found their manager. The Reds would lose the 1970 World Series in five games to the Baltimore Orioles. Two years later the Reds returned but suffered more heartbreak, losing in seven games to the Oakland Athletics. After a stunning loss in the 1973 NLCS against the New York Mets, and falling short in 1974, the Reds finally had all the pieces come together in 1975.

The 1975 Cincinnati Reds were one of the greatest teams ever assembled, as they had a lineup featuring Peter Rose, baseball’s all-time hit king and three future Hall of Famers (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez). They also featured George Foster one of baseball’s top sluggers to go along with All-Stars Ken Griffey Sr. and Dave Concepcion. Pitching was at times a weakness for the “Big Red Machine”. To counteract this, Sparky Anderson became the first manager to rely heavily on his bullpen, earning the nickname “Captain Hook” for his tendency to make quick pitching changes. The Reds won 108 games in 1975 and beat the Boston Red Sox in a thrilling seven-game World Series. In 1976, the Reds made it back-to-back championships and became the first team since divisional play to sweep their way through the postseason, going 7-0 against the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. This run has yet to be duplicated.

The Reds added a big frontline starting pitcher in 1977 when they acquired Tom Seaver from the Mets, but their quest for a third straight title ended as they lost the West to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the 1977 season, Reds General Manager Bob Howsam stepped down and was replaced by Dick Wagner. Once again, the Reds fell short in 1978, finishing two and a half games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wagner wanted changes made to the Reds coaching staff, but Sparky Anderson balked and was eventually fired after the Reds completed a tour of Japan. After his firing Sparky Anderson poked fun of himself, appearing on an episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati”.

Sparky Anderson would find work again, as he took over as manager of the Detroit Tigers from Les Moss. Five years later, Spark Anderson led the Tigers to a World Championship, becoming the first manager to lead teams in both leagues to a World Series title. Sparky Anderson would manage the Tigers until 1995, posting a record of 1331-1248. His 2194 wins as a manager ranked sixth All-Time, as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. Sparky Anderson’s number 10 was later retired by the Reds, as was his number 11 in Detroit. He is the all-time winningest manager for both franchises.