'84 Tigers will miss Sparky at Monday's reunion
JUN 27, 2014 11:46a ET
DETROIT -- When the 1984 Detroit Tigers reunite before Monday night's game at Comerica Park to celebrate the World Series they won 30 years ago, something is going to be very different. For the first time at one of these gatherings, Sparky Anderson won't be with them.
Anderson, the Hall of Fame manager who taught them as much about life as he did baseball, died from complications with dementia on Nov. 4, 2010 in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 76.
However, Dave Bergman, a first baseman and clutch pinch-hitter on the '84 team, begged to differ on Anderson missing out on this.
"Oh, he will be there," Bergman said. "Trust me. He'll be there. I'm looking at a picture of him in my office right now. He's with me in spirit every day, and he will be there in that way with all of us on Monday."
They can still picture Anderson boarding the team bus with his white hair slicked back and a wide smile creasing his face. Or they remember walking into his cramped office at Tiger Stadium, finding him smoking a pipe and perusing statistics spread across his big wooden desk.
"Oh, yeah," said All-Star shortstop Alan Trammell, now a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks. "He will be there. And we'll be smiling thinking about him. Five years ago, we all said this might be the last time we see him together. And it was. We cherish that."
That's because Anderson was like a second father to many of them.
"My dad died in March," said starting pitcher Dan Petry, "and I'm still in denial about that. And I'm still in denial about Sparky dying because I have such high esteem for both of them."
"The one thing that has always stuck with me about Sparky is how we'd get on the bus and fans would be waiting for autographs. They would say, 'Thank you, Mr. Anderson.' And he would say, 'No, thank you.' He'd say, 'Daniel, it's an honor to be asked for an autograph. They won't always want it.' That was his way of telling you that you would only play a short time, and to be aware of what you are going to do after you quit playing."
Petry retired from the game in 1991. He's worked as a representative for the Millcraft Paper Co. for 20 years, and also assists his son, Matt, the head coach in baseball at Orchard Lake St. Mary High.
Jack Morris and Petry were the one-two pitching punch in 1984, combining to go 37-19. Morris now lives on a lake near Minneapolis, and is a Minnesota Twins TV analyst.
"Sparky meant so many things to me," Morris said. "He taught me to respect the game and the uniform and be a pro. And he taught you things about life, too.
"There was something my parents had tried to tell me, but it really hit home coming from Sparky. I was taking grounders with Tram on a beautiful, sunny day at Tiger Stadium. It was the day after I lost a game that really bothered me. Sparky is on the grass behind us and he says, 'Come here.' I walked over and Sparky pointed up at the sky. He said, 'What's that thing up there in the sky?' I looked up and squinted, saying, 'The sun.' And Sparky says, 'Isn't it amazing that it comes up every day?'
"He told me I was being too hard on myself. And Sparky added, 'Do your best and know that in your heart. And quit beating yourself up.' Forget baseball -- that was a life lesson. And things changed a lot for me after that day."
Anderson treated every player with a personal touch.
"He would play the game through in his head in advance," said reserve outfielder Rusty Kuntz, now the first base coach for the Kansas City Royals. "That tied into what he did during batting practice. He would make contact with all 25 of us at some point each day. Some days, he'd just ask how you're feeling.
“He's with me in spirit every day, and he will be there in that way with all of us on Monday.”
"But then there were days that Sparky would say, 'If this left-hander comes up in the seventh inning, I might need you.' And then here comes the lefty in the seventh, and Sparky would say, 'You are hitting for Johnny Grubb.' How did he know that? I was the 25th guy on that team, and there was my chance. And I was already loose because I was thinking Sparky might need me."
Trammell said, "Sparky was so good at all the little coaching tricks. But when he first started managing us (in 1979), he was mostly about tough love. His attention to detail made him special. Lou (Whitaker) and I played for him for 17 years. That's amazing. I don't think any two players and one manager ever did that. And as time went on, he loosened the reins. But he was hard on us for a while to make us better, and he did. The losses really ate at him, though. He cared...he really cared."
Bergman, now a partner and senior portfolio manager for Sigma Investment Counselors in Southfield, cherishes a letter Anderson wrote him upon his retirement as a player.
"Sparky called me a 'true professional' in that letter and that meant so much to me," Bergman said.
Rod Allen, now the Tigers' game analyst for FOX Sports Detroit, said he will never forget Anderson and Tigers general manager Bill Lajoie calling him into an office in Lakeland, Fla., and telling him he'd made the team out of spring training. He played through the 35-5 start, hitting .296 in limited play as an outfielder, and became expendable after veteran outfielder Ruppert Jones was signed as a free agent.
"I think of Sparky when I look at my World Series ring," Allen said. "Sparky had a huge say in its design. It has our last names in capital letters and the Olde English D on it, and 1984. It has a blue sapphire and a diamond. There are bigger, bolder rings now. But this one has character."
Whitaker, now retired and living in Greensboro, N.C., said Anderson used to kid him about having been harder on the Cincinnati Reds he managed to World Series wins in 1975 and 1976.
"Sparky said he played Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench every day," Whitaker said. "But he gave me a day off here and there and it helped me from burning out.
"Sparky treated everybody with respect, and commanded respect. He wanted his team to look good and act right. He taught us with great respect and warmth."
Lance Parrish, who now manages Detroit's Double-A team in Erie, Pa., won't be able to attend because he has a game with the SeaWolves.
"I wish I could be there," Parrish said. "It will be different without Sparky because he obviously was the leader of that team. Everybody has fond memories of Sparky and all the work and effort he put into that team.
"We all appreciate him, and how much he poured his heart into the game and all of us."
NOTEBOOK: Monday night's game with the Oakland A's begins on FOX Sports Detroit at 7 p.m., with Tigers Live at 6. The ceremony honoring the team starts at 6:30, and the first 20,000 fans will receive '84 road jersey replicas. There will be a Q&A for fans with the '84 players from 5-6 p.m. at the Big Cat Court at Comerica. Players scheduled to attend are Allen, Doug Bair, Doug Baker, Juan Berenguer, Bergman, Tom Brookens, Darrell Evans, Barbaro Garbey, Grubb, Petry, Dave Rozema, Trammell and Whitaker. Coaches Dick Tracewski and Alex Grammas also are expected.