George "Sparky" Anderson (highlighted) and the 1951 American Legion Baseball Championship team board a plane bound for New York City to be recognized during the Major League Baseball World Series.

Legion Baseball icon, supporter remembered

The recent news of George "Sparky" Anderson's death at age 76 has saddened the baseball world, The American Legion and all those who knew him well.

"Sparky Anderson was not only a dear friend for over 30 years, but much, much more," said Bill Haase, senior vice president of the Baseball Hall of Fame. "He was the consummate friend, a great confidant and a true professional. Sparky loved baseball as much as anyone I have met in my 36 years in the game. He touched everyone he met in a special way because he loved teaching, sharing experiences, telling stories and making the game better for those around him. I will miss him personally and baseball will miss one of its greatest ambassadors."

Though Anderson is remembered as a professional baseball icon, he too is remembered as a great supporter and player of Legion Baseball. Long before Anderson acquired his nickname "Sparky" in the minor leagues in 1955, he was a spunky California boy playing American Legion Baseball for Los Angeles Crenshaw Post 715. That energy helped his team win the Legion World Series in 1951 at Detroit's Briggs Stadium (renamed Tiger Stadium). That group made Legion history - Crenshaw Post 715 became the first Legion Baseball team to travel by air instead of train to the Major League Baseball World Series in New York City for special recognition.

After Anderson stopped running Legion bases he spent nine seasons in the minor leagues and one season in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, eventually hanging up his playing uniform to become a manager. From 1970-1978 Anderson managed the National League's Cincinnati Reds, leading the team to a World Series win in 1975 against the Boston Red Sox and again in 1976 against the New York Yankees. Anderson then moved up the ranks by managing the American League Detroit Tigers from 1979-1995, during which time he captured his third World Series title in 1984. This achievement led him to become the only manager in baseball history to win a World Series in both National and American Leagues.

When Anderson retired from his managerial career in 1995, he walked off the field with the third most MLB victories in history - 2,194. And a year later, Anderson rekindled his passion for Legion Baseball by speaking at the 1996 American Legion World Series banquet in Roseburg, Ore., where he stated, "Legion baseball players measure up to the finest traditions of the game in tangible ways."

More importantly, when it came time for Anderson to give his acceptance speech as an inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 as a manager, he mentioned one of his greatest moments was winning the Legion Baseball World Series 49 years ago.

"Sparky always remembered his roots, especially American Legion Baseball which was special to him," Haase said. "He used to share with me how much Legion Baseball shaped his life and made him both a better person and a better student of the game."