Sparky Anderson and an appendix

Prepping for surgery, not dinner

By Marc Katz

I know a lot of people remember June 14, 1979, the day Sparky Anderson managed his first game for the Detroit Tigers when he should have been in the middle of his 10th year with the Reds.

I can’t believe that day has passed and I’d forgotten. The next day, my wife had her appendix removed. Yeah, I know, a coincidence.

The sequence was more memorable for Julie because I was in Detroit for Anderson’s debut and back home the next afternoon when she called to say she needed an emergency operation.

Amateur humorist that I was, I suggested at the hospital she come home first to make dinner.

A decade later, we found out her nurse didn’t think I was funny.

Julie and I had been married a little more than a year when Les Moss was fired by the Tigers on June 12, apparently for the sole reason that Anderson was available.

Moss, in his first season managing the Tigers, was 27-26 and had won 11 of his previous 16 games. Anderson had won four pennants and two World Series with the Reds when he was fired at the end of the 1978 season. He was doing television work and entertaining other managerial positions when the Tigers called, worried he would go to another team.

Two days later, Anderson began his 17-year career with Detroit, where he won another World Series and managed himself into the Hall of Fame.

But you probably knew all that.

At the old-school Dayton Daily News, we covered “pop-up” stories with whomever was available, which at the time, happened to be me.

It was a plum assignment. It was baseball, and I knew Anderson a bit from following around Hal McCoy, who continues to write about the Reds.

Of course, in June 1979, McCoy was busy with the Reds, so I took a company car to Detroit, interviewed Anderson, watched a game against Seattle, spent some time with my father-in-law, and returned to Dayton the following day, a Friday. Julie was working at Miami Valley Hospital, fortuitous when you’re not feeling well.

When I arrived home, I took out some chicken for our big Sabbath meal, bought some of her favorite flowers, and decided to rest on the deck of the small bungalow we were renting. As I recall, I even applied sun tan lotion and had just sat down when the phone rang. It was Julie saying something about her appendix.

I went to the hospital to see what I could do, which, as it turned out, was nothing.

What had started as a pain in her stomach had radiated to her lower right side.  She first went to employee health and eventually to the emergency room. Coincidentally, our family physician was making rounds at the hospital and came down to examine her and promptly told her the rest of her weekend would be spent in the hospital. Did I tell you how convenient it is to work at MVH?

Julie had planned on visiting Detroit herself that weekend to attend a bridal shower for her sister, who was getting married later in the year. Obviously, her plans would change.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, Julie was partially prepped when I jokingly asked the nurse if I could borrow her for an hour or so to make me dinner. I promised I’d bring her back. It was difficult for me to turn on the oven without the kitchen filling with smoke.

The nurse turned a little snippy and told me Julie absolutely could not leave, and I forgot about the conversation until about 10 years later.

Like a doting husband, I stayed at the hospital until the operation was complete, and visited her in recovery where I was told all the double rooms in the hospital were occupied.  Our options were paying a little extra (I’m remembering $4-$6) a night for a private room, or a bed in a ward (I’m remembering four- and six-person wards).

Now, if you know Julie, she’s quite an extrovert so I thought a ward would be nice. She’d have someone to talk to throughout the day. Quickly, her colleagues informed me that she belonged in a private room and Julie—coherent enough to understand, but not able to speak—furiously shook her head no at the thought of a ward.

We had only been married a year. I had so much to learn. She stayed in a private room.

Unbeknownst to Julie and me, the nurse in the emergency room never forgot my comment about dinner.

She saw Julie in a hospital meeting about 10 years later. Afterward, she asked if she had her appendix removed about 1979 and was she married to the same man.

Julie said “yes” and asked the nurse why. “Did you know he wanted you to come home and make him dinner before your surgery?” she said.

It was just a joke, Julie tried to assure her.  And then she thought, “My concern was every time she saw me for 10 years, she was telling people, ‘You wouldn’t believe the guy she married.’”

After 39 years, it has all worked out. Julie’s operation was a success, she had a private room, and a friend made me dinner.

Sparky was successful, too.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at

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