Between the prime ribs and the German chocolate cake, Sparky Anderson, manager of the Detroit Tigers, was telling a roomful of Hot Stove League fans about the first time his father even saw a big league game.
"I had spent six years in the minors as an infielder when the Los Angeles Dodgers, who owned my contract, traded me to the Philadelphia Phillies in time for the 1959 season," Anderson explained. "On our first West Coast trip that year my father, who lived in the Los Angeles area, came out to watch me play against the Dodgers.
"Well, the Phillies weren't much of a ball club and the game was a disaster," Sparky continued. "The Dodgers beat us 17-5 and when I came home that night my father was waiting up for me in the kitchen. The first thing he said was: 'Are the Phillies really a major league team?'
"Naturally we went right on losing and a month later our manager, Eddie Sawyer, blasted us so strongly in the Philadelphia press that the wire service picked up his quotes and flashed them across the country. My recollection is that Sawyer said we were the worst major league team he'd ever seen.
"This did not go unnoticed by my father, whose next letter to me contained only one sentence: 'I knew the Phillies were no good 30 days before Sawyer did!'"
Anderson also told about the unusual circumstances that led to his being named manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1970, although not one newspaper carried his name as a possibility for the job.
"As a young man, Lefty Phillips was the best friend I ever had in baseball, a man I still think of almost every day," Sparky said. "When Phillips was named manager of the California Angels, the San Diego Padres were kind enough to release me as third-base coach so that I could do the same job for Lefty.
"I had just finished signing a contract with California for $17,000, the most I'd ever made in baseball, when Angels general manager Bill Walsh said he had a message from Bob Howsman to get in touch with him right away," Anderson continued. "Howsman was Cincinnati's general manager and the impression I got from Walsh was that one phone call was going to make me manager of the Reds."
Once Sparky reached Howsman in Cincinnati, he discovered that he was merely one of several men under consideration and that what Bob primarily wanted was to talk baseball and fire off questions. Finally Howsman asked Anderson how he would handle the Reds' players if he were named manager.
"I told him I didn't know -- that I didn't think anyone could answer that question until he knew the players he'd be dealing with personally and professionally," Sparky said. "The next thing I knew Howsman was telling me I could have the job. I've always attributed his decision to the fact that I was honest and that I didn't try to hide anything."
Asked what kind of a value he put on winning and losing, Sparky replied: "I've had five pennant winners, taken the Reds four times into the World Series and won twice, and I've never considered myself a better man because I won. The important thing is to compete and compete hard, but I've never felt that winning was everything.
"In my opinion too many people are looking for security when it's already right there with them," he continued. "I grew up poor, which is one of the best things that can happen to you. Otherwise you're never going to understand or appreciate success."
Anderson says that too many people make the mistake of equating success with money -- that to those people money is a problem which they need to rid themselves of.
"The real meaning of success is to be happy with what you are doing and to get up every morning with the idea that you're going to try to make everyone you meet happy," Sparky said. "And we don't need booze or marijuana or cocaine to give us courage, because courage is something that comes from within."
For any ballplayer who would someday like to manage in the big leagues, Anderson has this advice: "Be yourself, because nobody is so good an actor that his true feelings won't be found out. I think you have to have discipline; I think you have to be willing to listen; and I also think you have to realize that it's the players who win games, not the manager."