“Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime.”
Sparky was nice to everyone he met – players, presidents, popes, paupers.
And he was nice to me. Incredibly nice. I interviewed Sparky back in 1981, and I left that interview thinking that Sparky Anderson was the nicest person I had ever met. I still feel that way today.
The legendary manager of the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds, Sparky passed away on Thursday from complications related to dimentia. He was only 76.
I’ve told this story before – the story of the one-and-only time I met Sparky – but I want to tell it again. Because it left an impression on me that I’ll never forget.
In February of 1981, I was a senior at the University of Michigan, and one of the sports editors of the Michigan Daily. I went to Florida during spring break with a friend of mine, and naturally, we wanted to stop in Lakeland to see the Tigers.
I used my press credentials to finagle a field pass for one of the practices, and that’s when I met Sparky Anderson. I thought it would be a good idea to interview him for the Daily, so I walked up and asked if he had a minute to talk.
What followed was, without a doubt, the worst interview that I had ever done. No, check that. It was the worst interview that ANYONE had ever done. In the entire history of journalism, nobody has ever done a more miserable job of interviewing someone than I did that day with Sparky Anderson.
It was awful. I had no questions prepared, I rambled on incoherently when I DID come up with a question to ask, and I stuttered and stammered the entire time. I was a 20-year-old college punk wasting the time of a Major League Baseball manager.
And you know what? Sparky could not have been nicer. He smiled, he tried to answer every stupid question that I asked, and he basically made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.
This was in the middle of practice, for Pete’s sake, and he never once tried to rush me along. We stood there for 10 minutes talking on the field in Lakeland, and when we were done, he actually thanked ME for taking the time to interview him. ME! A 20-year-old moron who had just wasted 10 minutes of his time.
And then Sparky asked me a few questions, too.
“Hey, I hear the Michigan team is coming down here to practice. Do you know who they’re going to play?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think they’re playing the Mets and a few other teams.”
“That’s great!” he said. “If you have a chance to see them, tell them I said good luck.”
And I came away from that interview thinking two things:
1. I will never again in my life be unprepared for an interview. It was a crime that I wasted his time like that, and I vowed to never do anything like that ever again.
2. Sparky Anderson is the nicest person I’ve ever met. I felt that way in February of 1981, and I still feel that way today. He was a great baseball manager, but an even better person.
I’ve told this story to my kids, and I’ve tried to give them the same advice that Sparky’s dad gave to him: Being nice to people doesn’t cost a dime.
I’ve told them that wherever you go in life and whatever you do, there’s nothing more important than being nice to people. Nothing.
I love that quote from Sparky’s dad, and I also love this anonymous quote: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
In other words, it’s easy to be nice to a prince, but how many people can be just as nice to a pauper?
Sparky was. He was nice to everyone – even a 20-year-old college kid who wasted his time back in 1981.
Well, Sparky, that 20-year-old college kid never forgot the lesson you taught him that day. And he’ll never forget the nicest person he’s ever met.
Rest in peace, Sparky.
You can e-mail Buddy Moorehouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.