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This Day in Reds History: Sparky Anderson Fired; John McNamara Hired

November 28, 1978: Following two consecutive second place finishes, Sparky Anderson was fired as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Anderson had been a relative unknown when hired as manager of the Reds following the 1969 season, but he immediately made an impact as the Reds won the National League pennant in his first season as manager, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. He possesses the Reds record for wins as a manager with 863 and in winning percentage with .596. His only Reds losing season came in 1971 (79-83), but the Reds had winning seasons in every other season he managed the team, with his next worst season being 88-74 in 1977. The Reds had even improved by four games from in 1978 to 92-69. Anderson was surprised at the firing, as was possibly nearly every Reds fan in “Reds Country.”

Anderson had taken over an annually competitive team from the 1960’s that had not finished in first place since 1961 when Fred Hutchinson managed the team. Anderson’s unique ability to relate to his players immediately made him a favorite. Hall of Famer Tony Perez is quoted as saying (quote from a Baseball Almanac Anderson biography):

“I remember that day in spring training when he told me, I’m here to win, and I want you to help me. Right then he had everybody. We wanted to win for Sparky.”

Baseball historian and sabermetrician Bill James took things to a simpler level with Anderson. In a 1982 Sport Magazine article, James is quoted as saying:

“He really believes that he made a winning team out of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, George Foster and Davey Concepcion by teaching them the virtues of shiny shoes and clean upper lips.”


Unfortunately, that blend of rapport coupled with discipline may have led to Anderson’s dismissal. The Baseball Almanac suggests that Anderson was fired after refusing management’s suggestions for changes on his coaching staff. “Big Red Dynasty” (by Greg Rhodes and John Erardi) also suggests that the Reds felt he had lost control of his team. Some quotes from the book:

…signs of discontent had begun to build in 1977. In spring training, coming off the back-to-back championships, Anderson had softened his training regime. He allowed Rose, Bench, Morgan, and some of the other stars to skip the long road trips….Anderson’s training camp in no way resembled the “Stalag 17” camps of the early 1970’s.

“The only thing we lead the league in is suntans,” sniped Rose at one point in 1977, implying that the club was too laid back.

Anderson did not have the “grip” on the players that he once had, (pitcher Jack) Billingham recalled “He got to be too friendly. He couldn’t get on them any more…When you have nine superstars, htey almost handle you, instead of you handling them.”

“Big Red Dynasty” also has an interview with former Reds “super” scout Ray Shore who says that Sparky began to take away player privileges:

“Sparky gave a lot the first years to cultivate these guys. Then, later on, it probably wound up costing him his job. When he started to lose, he started to take some it (privileges) away. Like (players’) kids in the clubhouse. Things got out of hand. You’d go in the clubhouse, there were 9,000 people in there. (Tom) Seaver didn’t have any boys to bring in, so he brought in friends, neighbors, and then Pete (Rose) would have his kids and so on. Then Sparky cut it back to only when we win were the kids allowed. Pete never understood that; he sort of resented it.”

“Big Red Dynasty” says that Reds General Manager Dick Wagner flew to Los Angeles to meet Anderson in an airport hotel to tell Anderson “I’m not bringing you back.” The book says Wagner offered no reasons and Anderson did not ask.

Anderson went on to manage the Detroit Tigers for 17 years and won a World Series with that team in 1984. He’s third all-time in wins with 2194 and 23rd in winning percentage (.545). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

On this same day, Wagner introduced John McNamara as the Reds new manager. McNamara was a baseball lifer who managed his first minor league team when he was 26-years-old. McNamara had previously managed the Oakland Athletics and the San Diego Padres and was now taking over one of the juggernaut organizations of baseball.

Anderson’s and McNamara’s tendencies had some similarities, but distinct differences according to Chris Jaffe’s book “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers.” About Anderson:

Anderson’s teams featured power-hitting offenses, and fantastic defenses. He was one of the biggest users of the intentional walk in baseball history…Anderson’s offenses played for the big inning…home runs are the main objective…strikeouts are the byproduct of swinging for the fences, and walks occur because opposing hurlers are more prone to pitch around them…Anderson helped revolutionize pitcher usage strategies…Sparky Anderson had the worst strikeout differential of any manager in baseball history…Anderson was especially adept at filling out the lineup card. Placing hitters at the top of the batting order who an get on base…

About McNamara:

McNamara liked to bunt but had very little interest in stealing. He did a pretty good job of filling out the lineup card, putting his better OBP guys in the top spots and making sure all the dross was at the bottom. His 1974 Padres issued 116 intentional walks, which is the all-time record. His 1988 Red Sox featured the best strikeout differential in AL history….no manager has coaxed worse performances from his relievers than McNamara…McNamara has the worst record in extra-innings of any prominent manager.

So, in a nutshell, Sparky played for the big inning by wanting high OBP players at the top, power in the middle, he didn’t care if his team struck out, he knew whom to intentionally walk, and wanted his pitchers to pitch to contact to allow his defense to work. McNamara liked to bunt more, steal less, had OBP players at the top, didn’t like strikeouts on offense and loved them from his pitching staff, loved the intentional walk, had poor relief performance, and lost games in extra innings (actual extra inning percentage was .399 including postseason games).

McNamara managed the Reds for four seasons and seemingly saw the world in those four years. He oversaw a divisional first place team in 1979 in his first year as Reds manager, oversaw a Reds team with the best record in baseball but no playoff berth (1981 strike split season), and he oversaw the only Reds team to lose 100 games in a season, the 1982 squad. His overall Reds record was 279-244. He managed 19 years in the majors with a record of 1160-1233, winning one pennant with the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

2 thoughts on “This Day in Reds History: Sparky Anderson Fired; John McNamara Hired

  1. I am reading Posnanski’s book about the 75 Reds and it is all Sparky. Pretty funny stuff, mostly Sparky was paranoid all the time about what would happen and the players all did what Sparky wanted because they respected and liked him, even though none of them thought any of it mattered all that much with the rules and all that Bill James alludes to. It’s easy in retrospect when you win the way that they won that year, though.

  2. Interesting analysis. I don’t know much about the problems Sparky was having with his players in 1977 and 1978, but they managed to win 86 games with a weak pitching staff in 1977 and were 92-69 in 1978. So his bottom line was still impressive.

    I didn’t like McNamara’s in game management, which was very much by the old school book. Didn’t know about his overall poor record in extra inning games. I do remember the first 2 games of the 1079 NLCS, the Reds lost both to the Pirates at home in extra innings. There were criticisms of his handling of the bullpen, but the Pirates had a better bullpen.

    Dick Wagner was one of the worst GMs in the Reds history, and a prize ass.

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