Thoughts from Sparky’s #11 retirement ceremony

Sparky Anderson's grandchildren unveil his retired number on the Comerica Park wall (Getty Images).

Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t hear a lot of stories about Sparky Anderson on Sunday, though the few that were told were pretty good. His daughter, Shirlee Engelbrecht, admitted that even she sometimes didn’t agree with her dad’s decisions to pull the starter.

“I did get caught a couple times booing when Captain Hook would come out,” she said Sunday morning. “I did get up, and one time he noticed when he was coming back [from the mound]. I was screaming with the crowd. But I think he set a trend, because there’s not a whole lot who start a game and finish it now.”

To family, he wasn’t Sparky. He was either George or dad. But he still had the ability to deal with people and get the best out of them.

“One time in fourth grade, I got three D’s, and I was petrified to tell my dad,” Engelbrecht said. “And my mom said I had to. He was sitting on the stairs, and I had to tell him. And I went over and I told him. He said, ‘Young lady, did you do your very best?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I did.’ He said, ‘Did you study? Did you do all your homework assignments?’ And I said, ‘Aw, yeah.’ And then I started realizing what he’s getting at.

“And by the end, he said, ‘If those D’s are your best, those are A’s to me. And if it’s not your very best, then do something about it.’ And I did. I brought them up.”

Sparky’s kids brought out a side very few of us had heard about, but a reflection of what many knew all along, that he had a big heart off the field. His former players reflected that more in lessons than in quotes.

“I still live to this today: It’s not rocket science, as he used to put it,” Dan Petry said. “It’s just to treat people like you would want to be treated. That’s pretty easy. You don’t want to be treated poorly by people and be run over and abused. That’s the way Sparky lived each and every day, that no matter who you were or how high on the totem pole or anything, everybody was treated the same.”

The best quote of the entire weekend, I thought, came from Larry Herndon. When he asked if there was one big lesson he learned from Sparky, he summed it up like this:

“I was an average ballplayer,” he said, “and so my ability took me as far as I could go. But being around Sparky taught me I didn’t have to be an average man or an average person.”


I can vouch for Larry Herndon being an above average person and I can share a little story, if I may.
It was spring training of 1995 and nobody was even sure yet if there would be a season because of the labor strife. I was in Florida and had a few hours to kill, so I drove over to Lakeland for my first visit to the ballpark. The games hadn’t started yet and I got there just before the workout wrapped up. I got a few pictures, including a very good one of Cecil Fielder and Mickey Tettleton, which I subsequently framed.
When I returned to my car, there was a group of kids and parents getting autographs of the players as they exited the clubhouse. I sat on the hood of my car, drank in the Florida sun, and watched. The majority of players signed in a perfunctory fashion but sadly, some of the players pushed through the crowd as if it didn’t exist, ignoring all the kids. Bear in mind that this was in the days before MLB public relations was enhanced.
Then Larry Herndon stepped out. I could see his smile all the way across the parking lot as he greeted everyone like old friends. He joshed with the kids, tousled their hair, spoke with the parents, and appeared to be having more fun than anyone. After awhile, the crowd shrank until there was no one left. At this point, Larry actually looked left, looked right, waited a minute to make absolutely sure there was no one else coming, then strolled out to his car and drove away.
If Mr. Herndon picked up any of this from Sparky, then it’s true what everyone says about number 11.

Final score 8 to 3= 11 runs. That’s fitting on the day Sparky’s number is retired……
I always liked Larry Herndon. Nothing wrong with being an average player in the majors.

WP Albuquerque 5-1, LP Heilman 4-1 = 9-2 = 11 decisions.
OK I promise I’m done.

And a guy in section 101 (10+1=11) took bets from his 11 friends that he couldn’t drink 11 beers in honor of Sparky. He drank the 11 beers, fell down 11 steps, an ambulance arrived in 11 minutes, transit time to ER was 11 minutes, he had 11 stitches and was discharged this evening at 11. I heard this on the 11 o’clock news.

Rich, you sure do get around!

Absolutely loved seeing some of the old regime. And Larry Herndon’s smile was about as good as it gets. Loved seeing Sweet Lou and him trying to get Tram to take a bit more recognition. I tend to be a past-dweller so this fit me to a T seeing those guys – truly terrific era of baseball those guys represented, my formative years as a baseball fan for sure.

I didn’t see much baseball this weekend but did see Alex and his homerun (oops, nope, not a homerun). He isn’t the type to do this and I doubt we ever see it again. I see he was taking some ribbing which he deserved and glad to see he was taking the ribbing the way he should.

I hope DD has the sense to get a good, solid, 2B/3B man for this team. This team has enough to win the division. IMO, it is not enough to just win the division placating the fans and keeping the wolves at the door. If you go that far then you should have enough to handle more post-season.
The plan is to limp through with Raburn until Guillen gets back. That’s simply a very bad “PLAN”. The risk/reward ratio on that plan is so small as to be almost impossible to measure.

We’re in 1st and there will be fans with rose coloured glasses that think everything is just peachy. We still need to stabilize the pen (Coke will go there), we need to enlighten our manager as to the intelligence of giving more reps to LHB Kelly at 3rd and we need a MLB caliber 2nd baseman.
That’s not a lot of additional personnel, as I see it, one clever, strategic trade can get us there. I’d like to have another 3rd sacker but realize the medium and long term situation there will not allow us to really pursue that area much. David Wright with the Mets would look very good there but realistically that is too big a contract to swallow.
I still think a guy like Michael Young could really bring a lot to the table for us. I also like Aaron Hill, who probably could be coaxed out of the Blue Jays. Granted he has had 2 off years but the guy can really play when he gets it together.
Michae Young would provide some leadership qualities as well. We could use that. Right now the best leader we have is a DH, Martinez. On the field I don’t see us having an inspirational, respected, go-to, leader, that leads by demeanor and example. JV is there less than 20% of the time. Avila will be, in time. Cab has some, but not all of those attributes. It’s hard to find a guy like that but if you have a couple of guys on your roster that have a “won’t lose” intensity about them it spreads itself over the entire team.
I have my fingers crossed that DD has something slick up his sleeve and the acumen to pull off a deal that he has to realize is absolutely essential for this team-this year.

so many good people built this organization

In most seasons, Dan, I’d say that none of that will happen. This particular season, I’d say that circumstances dictate that it’s imperative to win the division this year, so perhaps we will see a little more urgency. However, and it’s a big however, we just pulled 40k+ attendance for two consecutive games, not to mention creating a sellout at Coors Field last weekend. In a strictly business sense, that’s success. You know what I mean?
Personally, I don’t think we’re going to win anything this year. Hate to say it, but it’s the way I see things shaping up. I’m going to spend the remainder of the season hoping I’m dead wrong.

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