A week ago today, baseball fans across the country were surprised with bad news: Sparky Anderson, the legendary manager of the Tigers and Reds, was extremely ill and in hospice care at his home in California. Now we Tigers fans are supposed to know how this goes. We're only six months removed from the death of Ernie Harwell, after all. But certainly, we were spoiled. Ernie was diagnosed with an incurable disease and spent his last year in the public eye, where we could all comfortably say goodbye.
Sparky offered no such luxury. On Tuesday he was sick. On Wednesday he was gone.
Meanwhile, just hours after the first announcement, and less than 24 hours from the second, I did something.
I bought an autographed Sparky Anderson ball. I knew that once he died the price was going to rise--this is what happened with George Kell and Mark Fidrych earlier this year. Before you know it the balls are out of stock, or insanely expensive.
So I jumped the gun, before prices could pre-emptively rise, and before Sparky could pass. The sad part is that for months--over a year, actually--I have had an old game-used baseball from Tiger Stadium sitting on my desk, next to a letter written to Sparky asking him to sign it. I just never got around to sending it. Which leaves me resorting to feeling like a sleazeball, by doing nothing more than not get exploited by the actual sleazeballs who would jack up prices when Sparky died.
Fast forward one week:
It's beautiful, in that somber kind of way. It's the shaky, old, somewhat depressing signature of a man who really had no business doing this anymore. I mean, enjoy your life, Sparky. Don't waste your time signing a baseball for someone who was timing the announcement of your upcoming death so that he could pay a lower price. That's disgusting. Spend some time with your family or in the outdoors or something.
But from everything I've read over the last week, Sparky was the kind of guy who would take the time to sign a ball, or hold a conversation or write a letter, even when he really didn't have the time or energy to do so. And that's what we're left with. A shaky signature from a man who could have been doing anything else with his final days, but signed this ball instead.
I can't say that that doesn't make me a little sad.