The Conscience Of Baseball, 1995

There wasn’t a lot of principle flying around in the winter of 1994-95.

The owners had pushed the players into threatening to call a stupid strike. The players misjudged the owners and the public mood and struck anyway. The owners stonewalled, cancelled the rest of the season and the playoffs. All but one of the owners recruited “replacement teams” filled with minor leaguers (some of them virtually blackmailed into it) and long-retired players (some in their late 40s) and trotted them out on the field for Spring Training of 1995.
And Sparky Anderson said no.
The Hall of Fame manager of the Reds and Tigers passed away Thursday, and his successes with both franchises were worthy of all the accolades he’s receiving posthumously. But not prominent in these recollections is what Sparky Anderson did when the proverbial rubber met the road in that dark March of 1995, when the owners were ready to put a guy who was on Anderson’s first Cincinnati team in 1970 on the mound a quarter century later and pretend it was still the Major Leagues.
Sparky Anderson said he didn’t want to pick sides in a labor dispute, that his only interest was the integrity of the game, but he just couldn’t participate in the “replacement” season. So, much to the horror of his management and the game’s, he took an unpaid leave of absence as manager of the Detroit Tigers. When a court ruling forced a settlement on the owners and the “replacements” vanished, Sparky came back for a troubled year in which ownership looked at him suspiciously and even some fans took out on him their frustrations about the strike. It would be his last season managing.
As suggested earlier, in terms of principled action there wasn’t much for Anderson’s gesture to compete with that nuclear winter and spring. The Orioles’ Peter Angelos refused to field a replacement team, but it was suggested that he had multiple motivations in so doing because a season of Baltimore baseball with Cal Ripken on the sidelines on strike would have taken the heart out of (and probably technically ended) Ripken’s pursuit of what was then Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games-played streak.
Thus Sparky Anderson was the conscience of the game in that awful time, and although hardly as destructive to his future associations with the sport, his actions of 1995 were in the same broad category as Curt Flood’s had been in the pursuit of a player’s right to have a say in where he played. Sparky’s decision was completely in character with the rest of his baseball life. It isn’t mentioned on his plaque at the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t be, but at this of all times it should be remembered alongside the World Championships and the unforgettable persona.


  1. jeterandiborn62674

    With no more baseball, I tuned in to your show last night Keith for the first time since February (except for peeking over at Worst Person in the World– which you now are for dropping Worst Person in the World– while YES was running a message from “our friends at” Fox Going Out Of Business Channel, yuck) and it was too bad you were making fun of the ratings in the World Series. Maybe if Fox got decent announcers and ESPN talked about something other than what Favre ate for lunch today, people would show more interest. If people won’t watch when there’s The Freak, The Beard, Panda, the AL MVP, AL Rookie of the Year, NL Rookie of the Year, AL Manager of the Year and the Giants’ first win in San Francisco, they must be idiotic enough to … well, just look at Tuesday’s results. The future of our country ain’t what it used to be. Now can March 2011 get here please so I can watch “30 Clubs in 30 Days” and escape the lunacy again?

  2. jeterandiborn62674

    Just heard the bad news about the suspension. Maybe time for Keith to join MLB Network and prepare to take over the play-by-play duties on TBS in the playoffs.

  3. jwin214

    jeterandi – That’s a great idea! Better yet, I’d love to see him take over for Joe “Master of the Obvious” Buck at Fox…but for some reason I just don’t see that happening.

    Good luck, Keith. I don’t know the whole story, but from what I do know, this sure seems silly to me from both angles. Regardless, I always hope for the best for you, whatever that turns out to be.


    My family and I will flat out boycott the network if they continue with this absurd double-standard of a suspension. And that’s a sacrifice considering how I love Maddow. Phil Green better wise up or he’ll have a boycott on his hands.


    I grew up in the late 40’s and 50’s and during baseball season that was our life, like it or not. My father would have two or three radio’s going for different games. We lived, ate and breathed baseball through my father and brother. My brother is a high school coach today and has been a scout for a major team. My father could name every baseball player who ever lived, their statistics, their games, their plays in each game, including the minor leagues. He was a walking encylopedia of baseball. I think the first words I remember was “it might be, it could be, it is a homerun.” Thank you for the Sparky Anderson comment, he was a colorful character for baseball and my father got a real kick out of Sparky, whom he knew, so thank you for this.

    As for the other issue in your life, good luck. We watch you every night and your comments and reporting are stellar. Hope you get back soon or land someplace soon, just let us know where, your multitude of fans will be there.

  6. jeterandiborn62674

    If you’re going to bash Keith here at least make it have a little something to do with baseball, if your brain is capable of that. Such as “Ha Ha Keith, you said Mitch Williams was becoming one of the best TV baseball analysts.” That’s all the help I can give the Keith-haters though they need so much more. Aubrey Huff’s rally thong has a higher IQ than these people.


    sparky will be missed. thanks KO.
    re:non-baseball related events-let us know where and when and we’ll be there. un-fricken-believable.

  8. dyhrdmet

    Keith, I keep saying that you should get affiliated with some TV channel that provides you an outlet to talk about baseball (whether it’s something like Tim Russert’s old weekend show or something with MLB Network or on YES Network in New York). bits like this are part of the reason why I say that. Nice Job.

    I had a pre-scheduled (before replacement players were in the equation) trip to Florida during Spring Training 1995 and went to see a Spring Training game for the first time in person, and it involved replacement players.


    Hey all you Keith fans;
    I signed a petition to MSMBC to re-instate Keith. You can find it at The Huffington Post; article by Adam Green, with tag line “100,000 sign petition for Olbermann”. Actually, as of 6:51pm Pacific time the count was 118,000.
    If you are so inclined please go vote (sorry, I can’t offer you a campaign contribution).


    My boss, yes, the same one who has been on Cloud Nine ever since his childhood dream of the SF Giants winning the World Series was at long last realized, also knew Sparky Anderson. He met him a few times and had dinner with him once. He told me the last time he saw Anderson was on a golf course, where Anderson had only shot nine holes because of the poor condition of his knees. He (my boss) had nothing but high praise for Anderson ? that he was warm, and one of those old-timers in baseball with a sense of humility, which seems to be so lacking in sports anymore.

  11. historymike

    Sparky did the World Series for CBS Radio from 1979 to 1982 with Vin Scully, and they were a riot to listen to. It sounded like one of Jon Miller’s routines. Vin would say something like, “The Pirates have maintained a familial pose,” and Sparky would say, “But they ain’t hitting good.” They were just great.

    As I recall the story, it was Game 5 of the 1970 World Series, and the Reds were about to lose the series to the Orioles. Pat Corrales was Bench’s backup, which was even worse than being a fifth wheel, and Sparky sent him up to pinch-hit so that he could appear in a World Series. Class.

    I also read that when spring training began, Sparky would gather the Reds and say most managers claim to have one set of rules. Then he’d point out Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench and say they were all going to the Hall of Fame and had their own set of rules. “Prove to me you’re going to the Hall of Fame,” he’d say, “and you can have your own rules too.” Wisdom.

    Keith, Rachel made the point tonight, obliquely but clearly, that to say Fox does what you did doesn’t mean anything because MSNBC has standards. That doesn’t mean those standards make sense. MSNBC made its point. I hope you are back on Monday. At least you’re honest about it. I can think of hosts, anchors, and commentators who should have to claim they are giving in-kind services and advertising.


    Keith, I’m very upset about this suspension. I have notified MSNBC, by phone and e-mail. Take the suspension, apologize and go on the air like Rachel Maddow did, and prove that you and MSNBC are different from Fox. I think this could be one of your best commentaries. It would make your parents proud. I will be waiting for your return, by watching something else in your timeslot.

  13. dleary1

    I moved to Cincinnati in 1974 and was not prepared for life in the alternate Baseball Universe. I grew up in central Illinois where what mattered was track and speed-skating. Or as George Will observed, if you had a tragic view of life, you rooted for the Cubs. If comedy was your thing, the Cardinals. But Cincinnati was different. Thousands took the afternoon off to go to the Businessman’s Special (took a while to realize some were women). Hundreds of teams played in the summer softball leagues. Any company larger than 30 employees had a softball team.

    Sparky was the king, the stars were courtiers. I would not have wanted to be a pitcher for the Reds. Captain Hook would bring a reliever in for two batters, or maybe just one if you wanted the first one. The town is truly in mourning at Sparky’s passing.

    Now to Keith’s situation. You know how you counted off the number of sponsors Glenn Beck had lost? If you’re not reinstated — and I hope your lawyers get a few pounds of flesh from MSNBC — they can start re-runs of Prison Break 7 days a week ’cause there won’t be any viewers or sponsors left.

  14. ktwoa

    Dear Sir,

    I am a fan. I have been a fan of yours since the KTLA days. I watch your Countdown on AFN. If I miss an episode, I download it on iTunes.

    You’ve got enough cash for a lifetime. Why would you continue to take the abuse from your employer…as well as the abuse you take from the right-wing?

    Keep blogging. Write more books. Fook the TV! Watch more baseball! Come over here to Japan and watch the NPB…it’s fascinating! I’ll take you around to all the ballparks.

    We might have to go to a Game 8 after tonight’s 15 inning tie (that is if the Chunichi Dragons can win Game 7, at home, on Sunday to force baseball’s first Game 8 since the 1910’s in MLB).

    Life is too short to get ulcers. Write. We’ll buy whatever you publish. Your fans are loyal!

    Podcast. Satellite Radio. There are many other outlets for your talents. Fook MSNBC! Don’t take their Bull!

    All the best to you, Sir!



    First no more baseball, second the sad result of Tuesday’s elections in AZ and now, no YOU! What is this world coming to? I didn’t think my state could get any more conservative, but I was tragically wrong. Thanks for trying.

    Oy….we’re all here wating for you to come back and fight the good fight.


    First no more baseball, second the sad result of Tuesday’s elections in AZ and now, no YOU! What is this world coming to? I didn’t think my state could get any more conservative, but I was tragically wrong. Thanks for trying.

    Oy….we’re all here wating for you to come back and fight the good fight.

  17. diehardcubforever


    When I was a kid growing up, I first watched you on Sportcenter. Hearing your commentary and brand of humor on there and banter with Dan Patrick always made me laugh and smile even on my worst days. And when you did the Dan Patrick show on ESPN Radio, I always tried to find a way to listen to them because it always brightened my day.

    When you joined Fox Baseball, I especially loved the time they went back in time and started with the old days of baseball and moved forward a decade each break until it got to the present and I still remember the show to this day….and even though I didn’t really care for Fox, I watched because you were on it.

    When you got Countdown, I started watching from the first day, and have enjoyed every show you have done and when I couldn’t, I watched it online and always loved your Special Comments. My parents and I always talked about them whenever they were on and how you seemed to always say what we were thinking.

    When you joined Twitter, I asked you a question that you were kind enough to respond to. It made me feel good knowing that even though you get tens of thousands of people tweeting you at one time, you were kind enough to respond to me.

    My point is that no matter what platform you decide to do next, be it podcast or satellite radio or a blog, please come back. I don’t care if I have to pay to get my XM back, I will gladly do so just to hear your commentary once again. I’m sure others feel the same way as well. I think this whole suspension is bunk, especially since people at Faux News have done it and nothing has been done, but I’m sure they have no standards over there as well. As a baseball fan, and as a fan of yours, please come back

  18. legacyshots

    Thanks for the Sparky memories. He was (is) a quality human being. I will never forget his gesture when he went out to the mound: For either righty or lefty, he would hold his arm straight at about a 60 degree angle down from horizontal and he had his index finger in a hook. Every time. Sparky gave us some quality baseball and he will be forever remembered.

    As for the nuttiness on MSNBS, I hope you will be back with them if that is what you want to do but I can see you excelling in some baseball oriented venture too. Whichever direction life takes you, I feel like you are a true citizen of this wonderful country and you are going to land shiny side up.

  19. rokinrobin

    Mr. Olbermann: I too am a baseball nut. Have been for 62 of my 67 years. My personal idol way back when was and still is Woody Woodward whom you you might have met over the years. Woody and i shared the same diamonds down in Miami. I notice the little things in life and for some reason Sparky always came out to the mound with his right hand in his back pocket. Sparky was a good man and your comments about him i had forgotten. I too am a progressive/liberal for 35 of my 67 years and deeply proud of being one. People like Thoreau, Trumbo, Bruce, Carlin King, Wellstone, to name a few but most of all, Mr. Thomas Paine have informed and shaped me. Keith, if i might call you Keith, you must know you will be missed and you must know that i along with many others have called and signed petitions for you to come back. Do whats best for Keith Olbermann and we will accept that but America needs your voice. Fortunately, the old bigotries are dying out, slooowly, but our young need your input. So “KO” come back and fight the good fight. With respect, im a huge fan, Bobby Grant Ocala Fla

  20. dbacksgirl85

    Hi Keith,

    I’ve watched/listened to baseball games for as far back as I can remember. Some of the best memories as a kid were listening to Dave Niehaus do play-by-play for the Mariners. But in 20-some years of watching and a couple playing softball, it never crossed my mind that there was strategy behind it all (what a concept, right?!)! Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog and learning about the intricacies of the game! Has opened a whole new door for me, thank you.

    Uh, in other news… I am so sorry to hear what happened with [those who shall not be named]. I have a feeling this was probably a situation of moral force, and I commend you for that 100%! Know that you have all of our support and we are fighting for you, just like you fight for all of us. YOU have earned our loyalty and respect, not the network. Hope everything can be worked out and you will be back soon. If not, we will follow wherever you end up.

    Thank you for everything, Sir. 🙂


    Dear Keith, I have been watching you for many years and I am outraged by the action of Phil Griffin. I am not a big sports fan but I am a big Keith fan. If you don’t return to MSNBC I won’t return either. I wish you all the luck in the future and hope I will be seeing you soon. Good Luck, Delila Owens in Bakersfield CA


    Hi Keith ~ I’m a lifelong Sparky fan – he will be missed here in the D.

    As for your situation, hang tough. The language in the ethics rule you supposedly breached seems not seem to apply to you or your show. You are a journalist to the extent that you do the research and are fact based, but your show is clearly based on your opinions, editorializing, and sometimes partisanship. I say sometimes because you have no problem slamming Democrats when they deserve it, and that is as it should be. Pesky facts apply to both sides. We are doing what we can to let MSNBC know that they need to un-suspend you ASAP. You probably aren’t able to address the situation publicly at this time, but we would love to hear from you as soon as possible, whether over at dk or somewhere else – preferably at 8pm on Monday on Countdown. We love you buddy, and we need your voice. You have more support than you can imagine. Hope to see you soon!



    Keith: Best wishes that you may successfully resolve (in your favor) these issues that have arisen with MSNBC. For the life of me, I have trouble understanding why they would want to remove “the straw that stirs the drink” from their lineup.

    In the meantime, can we have increased Baseball Nerd postings? I mean, at least use this time productively on something that actually matters to the soul of the country–baseball.

    For starters, how about some kind words for the SF Giants? Some of us have waited a lifetime for this moment…


    Dear Keith,

    How ironic…
    Speaking of “Conscience”, as you did in title of this blog…

    As a major San Francisco Giants fan AND Countdown fan, I’m outraged that your MSNBC show was suspended due to this ridiculous two-faced policy by Collins & TPTB 😦

    Can’t wait for you to get back, and hope you keep speaking truth to power…

    Take good care…

    Regards from the Bay Area,

    (PS. Sent u a personal tweet today from @laurirose – hope u see it…)


    Laughing at my mistake in previous post (Phil Collins vs. Phil Griffin!)

    Btw, why doesn’t this blog allow for subsequent editing of one’s posts?

    PS. Just saw the super-lame press release by Griffin (your MSNBC) boss that says you are being reinstated as of Tuesday’s show..

    Pathetic… Treating you like a misbehaving kid who’s just been spanked… I can’t imagine how furious I’d be if I was you 😦


    Am just another SF Giants and Keith fan wanting to weigh in with Congratulations on being re-instated. Got a hunch that MSNBC was more impressed with the support you have received, than they were aware of their own stupidity.
    Glad you will be back on Tuesday; Maria and I will tune in.

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