Sparky’s Start

Originally published on Torontoist on November 5, 2010.


1960 Topps baseball card of Sparky Anderson, the year he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as a player.

George “Sparky” Anderson, who died yesterday, will be remembered in the baseball world for many things. The pennants he won as a manager with the “Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati during the 1970s and with the Detroit Tigers in the 1980s. His colourful and creative interpretation of the English language that helped sportswriters fill columns. The feisty, entertaining spirit he brought to the game that endeared him to fans, including many in southwestern Ontario who followed the Tigers.

His leadership abilities were evident during his playing days with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, who offered him his first opportunity to demonstrate his managerial skills.

Following his sole stint as a player in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959, Anderson’s contract was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs minor league club in early 1960. He spent the next four seasons as the team’s second baseman. General Manager Frank Pollock noted the high number of “smartest player in the league” awards Anderson had received from rival managers and, with the player’s prospects of returning to the majors growing dimmer, intended to offer him the manager’s post for the 1963 season.

However, the team had entered into a relationship with the Milwaukee Braves and were assigned Bill Adair as manager, so Anderson continued on as a player and was given additional coaching duties to test his potential. Adair moved on to Denver after the season and many observers figured that Anderson, who had won a Silver Glove Award for his fielding, would fill the vacancy. That the prematurely greying twenty-nine-year-old kept his family in Toronto over the winter only fuelled speculation.


Sparky Anderson as a Maple Leaf. Image courtesy of Mop Up Duty.

The suspense ended on January 7, 1964. Anderson’s hiring was announced amid uncertainty surrounding the team’s ownership after Jack Kent Cooke put the franchise up for sale (the buyers wound up being a local group). When asked if he would continue to guard second base, Anderson replied “I’d rather manage than try to play and manage, and perhaps do both badly.” On the faith management had shown him over the past year, Anderson said “Pollock shows a lot of guts in hiring me even now. After all, I’m a rookie manager moving in at a Triple A level instead of apprenticing in the lower minors.” However, he felt confident in his own abilities, boasting “I think I’m going to be a good manager, even outstanding. We won’t know until September. If we don’t win the pennant then this team will have a new manager next year.”

One of Anderson’s first tasks was to raise sagging morale and increase dwindling attendance. “I want to have a running club,” he said. “We’ll go for the hit and run and stolen base rather than sticking with stodgy, stereotyped play. It’s my opinion that we can get fans back in the park if we entertain them with a daring team that’s ready to run the opposition out of the park.”

His efforts paid off early, as overall attendance nearly doubled for the team’s first dozen home games compared to 1963. Community outreach efforts such as regular Saturday morning coaching clinics at Maple Leaf Stadium—whenever the team was at home—helped boost those numbers. Anderson offered his assistance to local baseball leagues through occasional clinics or, in the case of the Kingsway Baseball Association, serving as an honorary official. As one league secretary in Scarborough told the Globe and Mail that June, “Sparky’s never too busy to help the kids. He’s in a tough pennant race, but he took time recently to talk to our atoms and peewees. You have to go with a pro who has time for kids.”

The 1964 season ultimately proved a disappointment for the team. A series of mid-season slumps seemed to rule them out of contention for a playoff spot and earned Anderson criticism from the team brass. A late surge offered hope, but the team’s playoff dreams were dashed on the final day of the season with a loss to the Rochester Red Wings. Despite the team’s winning record (82 wins, 70 losses), a fifth-place finish resulted in rumours about Anderson’s imminent demise. The manager remained upbeat and thanked Pollock for the opportunity. He admitted that “Toronto has almost become a home for me and my family. We’ve had five wonderful years up here. And we have made many fine friends where we live in Scarboro.”

Sparky’s prediction at the start of the season came true on November 27, when he was fired. Pollock resigned the same day. Before his departure, Pollock predicted that, despite the season just passed, Anderson would be a major league manager within five years. He wasn’t far off the mark: in 1970, Anderson marked his first season in the big time by leading the Cincinnati Reds to the National League pennant.

Additional material from Baseball’s Back in Town by Louis Cauz (Toronto: Controlled Media, 1977) and the January 7, 1964, February 18, 1964, and September 15, 1964 editions of the Globe and Mail.



“Sitting on fence: Sparky Anderson, manager of Detroit Tigers, isn’t willing to bet on Astros-Mets.” Photo by Doug Griffin, 1979. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library.

Sparky Anderson was the first major league baseball manager I was aware of. I began following the sport soon after the Detroit Tigers hired him in 1979. His face graced the scorebooks my Dad brought home from the annual teacher outing to Tiger Stadium, and I’d see him on the pre-game show or local TV ads. His presence in the Tigers dugout was a constant during my formative years, and it seemed like he’d be there forever–elementary school, high school, university. His departure from Detroit in 1995 coincided with my declining interest in the game.

When he died in 2010, I figured my familiarity with the latter half of his career would help me appreciate his first managerial job in Toronto. It also helped it was a slow day at my office job, so I spent the afternoon quickly grabbing archival stories. My speed at this sort of thing came in handy over the years, turning around such pieces within a day or less. I’ve occasionally made pre-emptive moves when famous people with Toronto ties have been in grave health (there are several musicians I have decent files on), but being that prepared feels ghoulish.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Find the Puck

New Liberty, October 1948.

Can you help Maple Leafs Hall of Fame goalie Turk Broda find the puck before the Boston Bruins offense does?

Launched in 1932 as the Canadian edition of an American general interest publication known for providing readers with the estimated amount of time required to read each article, Liberty magazine was purchased by Jack Kent Cooke and Roy Thomson in 1946. Briefly renamed New Liberty, the publication adopted a sensationalist tone that increased its circulation (the cover story for the edition today’s ad appeared in promised to tell “the truth about margarine”). Thomson sold his share of the magazine in 1948 when it appeared profits were nowhere on the horizon, but Cooke persevered and managed to make a little money from Liberty during the 1950s as its focus shifted to chronicling showbiz personalities on both sides of the border. Cooke sold off “Canada’s young family magazine” in 1961 to new owners who let it limp along for three more years.

This game shot was likely taken during the 1947/48 hockey season, as the Leafs didn’t start the 1948/49 season until this issue was almost off the newsstands. Besides Broda, other Toronto players searching for the puck are Joe Klukay (number 17) and Bill Barilko (number 21; he switched to number 19 for the 1948/49 season, then to his eventually-retired number 5 before the 1950/51 season). It was a good era to be a Maple Leafs fan as, despite a losing record during the regular season, the 1948/49 squad became the first NHL team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups in a row.


The answer, as shown in the December 1948 edition of New Liberty.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Just What Blue Jays Fans Ordered

Originally published on Torontoist on April 13, 2010.


Source: Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 4, Number 11, 1980.

Thanks to your friendly neighbourhood Dominion store, budding Blue Jays fans in 1980 could extend their love of their favourite baseball team to the culinary items usually associated with the sport. If the kids couldn’t make it to Exhibition Stadium, they could pretend they were at the ballpark merrily munching on hot dogs and chips while watching or listening to a game. Proud parents might find this a great opportunity to take a picture of their junior Jays, though the kids could lose patience after being forced to hold a bag of popcorn for fifteen minutes.

The 1980 home opener was scheduled for April 14, but heavy rain, high winds, and bone-chilling temperatures led to its cancellation. Fans were used to lousy weather to start the season—as spectator Lorne Leboeuf told the Star, “I’ve been down to all four of these opening days and I come expecting the worst. Today I got it. Even before they called it, though, I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to get ‘into’ the game. The weather sure knocks the enthusiasm out of you.”

Two days later, despite windy, one-degree weather, the Jays strode onto the field and clobbered the Milwaukee Brewers 11–2. Just over twelve thousand fans saw Dave Stieb pitch a complete game where he struck out five Brewers and gave up only six hits. Third baseman Roy Howell started the scoring with a two-run homer, then turned two double plays with new second baseman Damaso Garcia. The playing conditions were an adjustment to Garcia, who had been acquired in off-season from the Yankees: “that was the coldest weather I’ve ever played in.”

The Jays hovered around the .500 mark until June then stumbled for the rest of the season. Though they finished in the American League East basement for the fourth season in a row, 1980 marked the first time the team lost fewer than one hundred games as they finished with a 67–95 record.

Additional material from the April 10, 1980 and April 17, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Sporting Proposition in Muskoka

Originally published on Torontoist on February 26, 2008.

Vintage Ad #500: Skiing to Acapulco Via Huntsville

 Toronto Life, February 1971.

Your reaction to snow depends on the circumstances. The frequency of dumps the city has received so far this year has caused grumbling about blocked streets, dirty mounds higher than the average citizen and many a wish for spring to speed up its arrival. Conversely, as long as the roads outside the city are passable, lovebirds, families and outdoor enthusiasts looking for an escape from the city have headed up to Muskoka resorts like Hidden Valley to enjoy activities made possible by the white stuff.

Perhaps the gala après-ski events offered up sweater-clad singers for the swinging crowd and exciting new cocktail creations from the bar. It is unknown if the children’s events included choreographed snowball fights, piñata smashing (to tie in with the Acapulco promotion) and lessons on how to attract ski bunnies.

Today’s featured resort’s chain affiliations have varied over the years, with Holiday Inn one of the longest-lasting. Note the use of the chain’s classic “Great Sign” logo, a North American roadside icon through the early 1980s.


gm 1968-12-12 hidden valley opening rates

A sampling of skiing options advertised in the classified section of the December 12, 1968 edition of the Globe and Mail. We’re kind of curious about what the “total après-ski entertainment” at Hidden Valley entailed.

Globe and Mail, February 21, 1969.

gm 1969-12-18 hidden valley photo essay
Globe and Mail, December 18, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

My family stayed at Hidden Valley one summer during the mid-1990s, while my sister attended a jazz camp at Lake Manitouwabing. By that point the hotel was a Best Western, and the restaurant was a Golden Griddle whose menu proudly boasted all the supermarket brands it served (let’s just say I was never thrilled the few times I ever ate at GGs). Little would I have suspected at the time that one of the instructors at the camp would someday be my father-in-law, and that my future partner-in-crime may have been hanging around the campsite.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Super Summer Soccer Nights

Originally published on Torontoist on April 21, 2017.

Vintage Ad #190 - Toronto Metros

Source: Toronto Life, May 1974.

With Toronto FC’s home opener drawing near, today’s trip in the wayback machine stops at an earlier point in the city’s professional soccer history, offering “super summer nights” for a pair of twenties.

The Metros joined the North American Soccer League in 1971. This was the city’s second go-round with the league – the Toronto Falcons had been a charter member in 1968, but folded after one season. When this ad appeared, the Metros were coming off a first place finish in NASL’s Northern division, losing in the semifinals to the Philadelphia Atoms. 1974 wasn’t as kind – second place, a losing record (9-10-1) and a drop in average attendance (from 5,961 to 3,458).

The Metros merged with Toronto Croatia of the National Soccer League to form the Toronto Metros-Croatia, whose high point came with an NASL championship in 1976, led by Portuguese star Eusébio. The teams split apart two years later, with Global Television buying the Metros, renaming them the Blizzard and moving them to Exhibition Stadium for the 1979 season. The team remained in NASL until the league’s demise after the 1984 season, then continued on as a member of several other leagues before winding down ten years later.


This post barely tells the story of the Metros. Check out my Historicist column on pro soccer in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating in the Metros-Croatia 1976 Soccer Bowl victory.

Toronto FC debuted in 2007. They lost their home debut 1-0 against the Kansas City Wizards on April 28, their fourth loss in a row. The losing streak ended on May 12 during a home game against the Chicago Fire. They finished the season in the MLS Eastern Conference basement.