SPARKY VS. FREEP: A POINTLESS SQUABBLE

On the one hand, I really don’t want to write this column. It’s a pretty foolish issue. On the other hand, sometimes foolish issues grow into serious ones, and it’s best to nip them in the bud.

First, let me say I like Sparky Anderson. I always have. He’s a bona fide legend in baseball, even if the Tigers lose the rest of their games this season, which we are praying very hard won’t happen.

Second, let me say I also like John Lowe, the Free Press baseball writer. More than that. I respect him. He is a true baseball guy, the type who’ll sit in a press box long after dark, and you’ll say to him, “Come on, you can write in the hotel room,” and he’ll say no, thanks, he likes the feel of the ballpark.

In that way, he and Anderson are a lot alike. So it seems strange they should be at odds over anything, let alone who called a meeting or who didn’t. Yet believe it or not, that question prompted Anderson, on local TV, both Saturday and Sunday, to explode in tirades in which he accused Lowe of being a bald-faced liar, and also claimed he was “angrier than I’ve ever been.
. . . I will never forgive him!”

Pretty strong words.

And pretty unnecessary, if you ask me. Length of meeting doesn’t matter

Let’s straighten this story out. On Friday night, Anderson called a team meeting to discuss the question of pregame stretching. Why you need a meeting on this is beyond me. But, apparently, this issue came to a vote, at which point Anderson excused himself and asked Dave Bergman to report to him later with the team’s decision, yes or no.

With Anderson gone, the players took a vote. They voted no stretching. Then, according to at least four players — Alan Trammell, Chet Lemon, Mike Henneman, Jack Morris — who spoke to Lowe on the record, the team continued to discuss other subjects, including what it needed to do to win.

How long this went on, no one is quite sure. Nor is it important. Anderson admits the team “talked about a few things for two minutes.” Maybe it was four minutes. Or six. Or eight. Who keeps track?

Personally, if I were manager, I’d be happy my players were debating new ways to win. The Pistons do it now and then without Chuck Daly, and look at their record. But when Lowe wrote about the incident in Saturday’s paper — in a small, inside page notes column — it carried the headline “Tigers meet without Sparky.”

Sparky didn’t like that.

His contention: He called the meeting. That makes it his meeting. Sunday, on Channel 4’s pregame show with Bernie Smilovitz, he argued it this way: SPARKY: Who has turned the meeting back over to them? . . . Me. . . . So I ran the meeting, didn’t I? BERNIE: Yes. SPARKY: So don’t let me (read) ‘Detroit Tiger Players Hold Meeting Without Manager Sparky Anderson.’ . . . If you read that . . . what do you think? BERNIE: That they held a meeting, obviously. SPARKY: Is that a lie or the truth? BERNIE: Well, you know. . . . SPARKY: Is that a lie or a truth? That’s all I ask! Is that a lie or a truth? BERNIE: Sparky, I want to ask you. . . . SPARKY: It’s a lie, so I don’t need your answer. It is a total, outright lie!

OK. So maybe the headline should have read “Players Continue Meeting After Sparky Leaves For Two Or Four Minutes To Discuss Things.”

Unfortunately, with a headline that long, there would be no room for the story. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail

Anyhow, since the TV shows, people have been buzzing. “I’ve never seen Sparky so angry!” they say. Well. Wait a minute. Maybe on TV, where Sparky has always been a pretty good actor. But those of us who deal with him in the clubhouse have seen him lose his temper before. It’s no big deal. This is the bigger mystery: Why would he get so hot over any issue like this — unless he feels his authority is being challenged? Personally, and I’ve thought about this all day, I don’t see what’s the big deal.

I’m sure the last thing Sparky wants is for people to think he’s losing control of the ship — especially in this so far dismal season.

But come on. You have to rise above that. You can’t drag a man’s name through the mud, you can’t call him a liar on TV, again and again, not over something as small as this. Sparky said he will “never” forgive Lowe, “not for

eternity!”

That’s a tad harsh, don’t you think?

Sparky lost his cool — over nothing more than semantics. Was it the “same old meeting” or a “new meeting”? Who cares? I sympathize with Sparky’s frustration, but not with his explosion. Not on TV. John Lowe is a decent, religious man. What if, as the manager suggested, that was the one thing viewers ever heard about him? That he was a liar? Would that be fair?

Know this: John Lowe is no liar. He is as honest as they come; he asks only to record the national pastime for a newspaper, to report what happens. He was doing that when he wrote his story Friday.

No one should have his name soiled for that.

Enough. As I said, the issue is pretty foolish, but the principles are not. Let’s hope everyone cools down, John can go on with his job, Sparky with his, and we can all return to more important questions:

Like why the Tigers aren’t stretching.

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