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Sparky's No. 11 retired in emotional ceremony

Sparky's No. 11 retired in emotional ceremony

Sparky's No. 11 retired in emotional ceremony
DETROIT -- Not everyone has a Sparky Anderson story. Everyone seems to have something they learned from him, and more than just baseball strategy or work ethic. It generally revolves around the same idea.

"It's not rocket science, as he used to put it," former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry said. "It's just to treat people like you would want to be treated. That's pretty easy."

On Sunday, the Tigers gave Anderson the treatment he deserved, retiring the Hall of Fame manager's number 11 in an emotional pregame ceremony capped with the unveiling of his name and number along the brick wall beyond right field at Comerica Park.

Several of Anderson's former players, including Petry, Lou Whitaker, Tom Brookens, Darrell Evans and Milt Wilcox, joined Anderson's three children, his nephew and two grandchildren for the ceremony. Former Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson, two of the cornerstones of Anderson's 1984 world championship team, watched intently from the D-backs' dugout.

It was a celebration not only of Anderson's career, but his contributions off the field.

"I think he'd be very, very happy and proud that we came together," said his daughter, Shirlee Engelbrecht.

Anderson passed away last November. While everyone agreed that they wish they could have seen this while he was still alive, they were glad to see him recognized in the city that grew to love him.

"I worked with Sparky for 32 years," said Dan Ewald, Anderson's best friend and public relations representative. "That's why I can confidently tell you that No. 11 belonged as much to all of you people as it does to him. ... Sparky loved Detroit. He loved the city's spirit. He said Detroiters never surrender."

On the field, the resume stands on its own. His 26 seasons managing in the Majors included a World Series title in Cincinnati and Detroit. He won 1,331 games over 17 seasons leading the Tigers, and he brought along a generation of great players in Gibson, Trammell, Brookens, Petry, Whitaker, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish and others.

His legacy on the field continues with Gibson and Trammell leading Arizona. Off the field, his CATCH charity continues to raise money to help improve the quality of life for children being treated at Children's Hospital of Michigan and Henry Ford Hospital.

It's an expression of the lessons Petry says he tries to follow to this day. He isn't the only one.

"I was an average ballplayer," former outfielder Larry Herndon said, "and so my ability took me as far as it could. But being around Sparky taught me I didn't have to be an average man or an average person."

Anderson not only passed that generosity along to his players, but also his family.

"It doesn't cost a dime to be nice to people," Anderson's nephew, Dan Polizzotto, recalled hearing from his uncle. "If you do that, everything will be good."

Petry, who had four straight seasons with at least 15 wins under Anderson from 1982-85, spoke during the presentation along with Ewald, who worked as Tigers media relations director during Anderson's early years as manager.

"I never wanted to pitch poorly," Petry said during the speech, "because letting down Sparky was like letting down your dad."

The Tigers had asked fans to be in their seats around 12:45 p.m., so much of the crowd was already in place by the time Tigers broadcaster Dan Dickerson began the ceremonies. They roared when Trammell and Gibson were introduced from the dugout. The timing of the ceremonies for the weekend the D-backs were in town was not a coincidence.

"I'm glad I was here," Gibson said after the game. "I think the people that spoke represented what Sparky was all about. My team was out there and maybe they understand some things about my quirkiness. Certainly felt Sparky's presence today."

The dugouts were full as the presentation unfolded. The Tigers' current stars, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, stood at the top of the steps, watched and cheered. Many of the current Tigers met Anderson at Dodger Stadium last year.

Sunday's Tigers starting pitcher, Brad Penny, was in the bullpen warming up for the game as the ceremonies began, but he took a moment to appreciate it, especially the video presentation that included some of his interviews over the years.

"I was watching the thing when I was getting ready for the game today about Sparky," Penny said. "What he said about the children he'd go see and stuff like that. He was like, 'This is a baseball game, and those are human beings, and this is life.' It was pretty inspiring."

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who represented the team in the ceremonies, presented Anderson's family with a framed jersey of Anderson's No. 11, as well as a plaque. Finally, Anderson's grandchildren unveiled Anderson's name and number along the wall, in between Ernie Harwell's name and Jackie Robinson's number 42.

Anderson joins fellow Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Hal Newhouser, as well as Tigers great Willie Horton, to have their numbers retired. Ty Cobb is also honored, but doesn't have a number to retire from his era. Kaline and Horton were both on the field for the ceremonies.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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