If Sparky Anderson covets Ray Knight's job, he will not campaign for it. He is too close to the Reds manager to undercut him, even if he is too far from baseball for his own good.
"People ask me, 'Do you miss it?' " Anderson said Wednesday. "I will always miss it. My goodness, you can't do something as long as I did, and enjoyed it, and not miss it. If I didn't, all those years were for nothing."
It has taken all those years for George Lee Anderson's age to catch up with his looks. He is 63 now, two years removed from the Detroit Tigers' dugout and three years away from eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He provides some color commentary for the California Angels, and plays a good deal of golf.
He is semi-retired and sounds semi-restless.
"I like it because I don't have any pressure to win or lose and I can just watch the players," he said. "I don't miss losing a tough game and trying to go to sleep.
"What I do miss - and this sounds crazy - is that tension you have with the bases loaded and two out in the third inning, when you know if you can get out of it you might be OK for a few innings. That sounds totally nuts, 'cause that's when you get the shaky nerves. But I do miss it."
Inexpensive gate attraction
Sparky Anderson is not looking for another uniform, not aggressively at least, but neither is he repelled by the notion. He would have managed the Angels, had he been offered the job instead of Terry Collins, and it is almost inconceivable that he could refuse a return engagement with the Reds.
With Knight's contract expiring, his ballclub foundering, and Marge Schott's franchise in need of inexpensive gate attractions, Anderson may again be the right man for the job he lost in 1978.
"I had Ray (Knight) in Cincinnati, and I had him in Detroit," Sparky said. "I really like him as a person. He and Nancy (Lopez), they are just nice people. That part of it, I wouldn't discuss.
"But I have never at any time - when I left Detroit or since then - ever been asked or talked to by the Reds. That is the living truth. It's not like I'm somebody they're knocking the door down to see."
The Reds move in mysterious ways. Two of the three managers Jim Bowden has hired had no previous managing experience. The third, Davey Johnson, was let go upon winning a division title.
If the Reds have overlooked Sparky Anderson, it can only be because he makes too much sense. He won four pennants in Cincinnati, and remains the only manager to win the World Series in both leagues. He is popular, proven, and perhaps a little wiser than he once was. Sparky Anderson could not make contenders of these Reds - that is a job for Job - but he would surely make their rebuilding process more palatable. Baseball has no better salesman, and no club in greater need of one.
"I know why you got this guy over here," Pete Rose once told Tigers owner Tom Monaghan, referring to Anderson. "He puts asses in the seats."
Reds have manager already
John Allen, who is running the Reds during Marge Schott's detention, says he is more interested in a manager's ability than his impact on attendance. He has also said Ray Knight is "pretty safe" for this season.
"I budgeted for one manager," Allen explained recently. "Not two."
Should the Reds continue to stumble around in the basement, Allen and/or Bowden may feel obliged to sacrifice Knight to appease frustrated fans and/or enhance clubhouse harmony. They could promote from within on an interim basis without incurring an extra salary. Or they could bring Anderson back for a pre-Cooperstown cameo.
Ray Knight probably deserves better. He is not responsible for the continued failures of the Reds farm system, or starvation scouting budgets. Yet because the Reds' difficulties go a lot deeper than their major-league manager, they need someone in that office who can create interest until the problems can be patched.
Sparky Anderson makes as much sense as anyone. More than most.
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