Now, the Hall of Fame manager is going to get the honor many have hoped to see, from a patch on the players' right sleeves to the retirement of his No. 11 on the brick wall at Comerica Park.
"To me, there's no greater honor for a franchise to bestow upon an individual than to retire his number," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in making the announcement Saturday morning at TigerFest. "It's happened very few times in Tiger history, with all the great players that have been through."
Anderson will be the first Tigers manager to have his number retired by the club. He'll join an exclusive group of players that includes Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser and Tigers Hall of Famer Willie Horton, along with Jackie Robinson, whose number was retired by all Major League Baseball franchises. Ty Cobb's name is listed along theirs on the outfield wall at Comerica Park, but he has no retired number, since jersey numbers didn't become standard until his playing days were over.
Adding Anderson's No. 11 to the list is one of several ways in which the Tigers plan to spend the 2011 season honoring him. The Tigers will wear a blue patch on the right sleeve of their uniforms, bearing "Sparky" and No. 11, starting with Spring Training games next month. The team will raise a flag to remember him, much like they did with George Kell and Ernie Harwell, before the home opener at Comerica Park on April 8.
The ceremony to retire his number will take place at a game to be determined.
"I'm tickled. I'm happy about it," said Tigers first-base coach Tom Brookens, who played for Anderson in the 1980s. "He's one of the greatest managers in the game. To have played for him, it's special."
Anderson managed the Tigers to their last World Series championship, in 1984, and their last division title, in '87, during his 17-year tenure in Detroit, during which he won 1,331 games. He retired after the 1995 season and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager five years later.
Though Anderson wasn't officially part of the organization in retirement, he was a beloved figure in the clubhouse and loved to visit the team when it came out to the West Coast, near his Thousand Oaks, Calif., home. He stayed in frequent touch with Alan Trammell, his former shortstop, when Trammell managed the club, and he kept in contact with manager Jim Leyland. He visited the Tigers last season at Dodger Stadium during Interleague Play, a trip that ended up being his final visit to a Major League ballpark.
Ever since, the wait has been on to see when and if his number would be retired. He received a raucous ovation during his final appearance at Comerica Park two years ago during the 25th anniversary celebration of the 1984 World Series title. Several greats from that team, from Trammell to Kirk Gibson to Jack Morris and Lance Parrish, said they came back because of him.
"In a way, it was his own way of being honored by everybody here," Dombrowski said. "You could see the way the players were with him. I don't think you could have -- and I can't speak for Sparky -- but I don't know that he would've felt any differently at that point. He was so honored, the way everybody showed up, and you could just see the love for him. And he and [Tigers owner] Mike Ilitch had a nice conversation during that time. It was just fantastic to see."
As for actually honoring him with the retirement of his number, though, Dombrowski said it never came up.
"I've never been involved, and maybe shame on me, where that topic has been addressed," Dombrowski said. "And I think we're all aware, we all know what he's accomplished. But it's a situation where the whole time I'm here, so many things go on, and you just [think] things are the way they are in certain situations, and we just never even had the conversation.
"And really, sometimes you sit back and say, 'Geez,' afterward, but it's one of those things where, when we sat down and we knew we were going to honor him once he passed away, when I sat down with [Ilitch], if you didn't retire his number, it fell short for us."
Dombrowski said later that discussions began on how to honor Anderson shortly after his passing last November. Ilitch, who purchased the team while Anderson was still managing in the early 1990's, was involved in every step of the process, Dombrowski said.
At that point, retiring Anderson's number was an automatic.
"It's the right thing to do," Dombrowski said.
For many, while this news might have been a while in coming, it was a welcome honor.
"It's a tremendous honor for Sparky and the family," Leyland said. "The Tigers don't really have a lot of retired numbers, so that's a real honor. And well-deserved. That's nice.".