Sparky Who? A Fascinating True Story

In the early summer of 1984 a young couple moved to the Detroit area with their infant son. They were newcomers to the city, and relocating in a strange locale was particularly hard on the baby’s mother, who stayed at home to raise the child as her husband worked.

The father was employed in the downtown area, far from their northwest suburban neighborhood. His lonely wife often took their baby for walks around the area, as she tried to acclimate herself and the child to their strange surroundings.

One evening her husband returned home, and found that his bride had discovered some respite from her loneliness. She told him that she and the baby had met a kindly old man on their daily stroll around the neighborhood that day, and the elderly gent had welcomed them to their new environs and asked if he could accompany them on their stroll around the block.

The husband and father had some initial misgivings about the oldtimer, particularly after his wife reported that the elderly man began to show up to meet her and the child on successive mornings, regularly joining them on their journeys around the area. She immediately put him at ease about the guy, saying what a sweet old man he was, a real grandfatherly type. And she stressed what a great and entertaining conversationalist he was proving to be. He was, in fact, a great antidote to the loneliness she had felt in her new setting.

In fact, the old gent often showed up with a toy for the baby or a small gift for the boy’s mother. And he delighted in showing the baby the flowers planted along their daily route, pointing out their names and beautiful colors to the young mother. No, there was nothing to fear from this sweet and white-haired old guy; he was a certainly a trustworthy type, just a lovable and gentle old soul.

The elderly man didn’t show up every morning for their walks; there were times when he apparently was busy elsewhere and wouldn’t meet the mother and her child. But he would invariably pop up again, and be waiting on the sidewalk for her appearance with her son in the stroller. And they would resume their walks, and their friendship, as the summer progressed.

Her husband was won over by his wife’s great regard for the old man, and he recognized that he was providing much-needed friendship and conversation for his wife while he was away at work. So he began to feel grateful for the old guy’s attention to his wife and baby son.

One evening as the young couple watched television at home, the husband tuned in a local news broadcast. During the announcement of the local sporting news, the broadcaster was raving about the incredible season being enjoyed by the local baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. The team had shot off into first place during the first week of the 1984 campaign, and had yet to be knocked out of first place as the pennant race continued to unfold.

As the announcer described that evening’s Tiger triumph, and displayed highlights of the team’s latest victory, the man’s wife suddenly sat up and her seat and pointed excitedly at their TV screen.

“That’s him!” she shouted. “That’s the old guy! That guy who walks with us!”

And that’s how her husband, a bit of a baseball fan himself, discovered that his wife and baby son were being escorted around and welcomed into their new neighborhood by famous baseball manager George “Sparky” Anderson … the leader of that incredibly successful Tigers team.

Sparky Anderson was only 50 during that summer of ’84 … but he had looked — with his prematurely white hair and genially-lined face — like an old man since he’d been 35. And it was fairly well known of the baseball legend-to-be that there were few things he enjoyed more than a daily walk.

And among the gifts of life that he prized beyond a regular stroll, and indeed he valued them to the end of his days … were the friendship and company of a good friend … and the presence and curiosity of a delightful child.