DETROIT -- On the day the Detroit Tigers retired Sparky Anderson's number, former pitcher Milt Wilcox reflected on how the Hall of Fame manager might have felt if he'd been alive to see the ceremony.
"He wouldn't want all of the limelight and stuff like that -- which he never did want -- but he's such a great guy, and he deserves everything that they're showering on him now," Wilcox said. "More so than just being a baseball manager, he was just a great guy. I think that's what most of the players realized about him -- yeah, he was a good manager, maybe even a great manager, but he was a great person."
The Tigers retired Anderson's No. 11 before Sunday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a celebration that included a video tribute and appearances by members of Anderson's family. Anderson, who died last November, managed Detroit to the World Series title in 1984.
Wilcox was one of several members of that team on hand Sunday, including Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and Arizona bench coach Alan Trammell. Lou Whitaker, the second baseman who played with Trammell as part of one of baseball's greatest double play combinations, was also at Comerica Park.
The Tigers have taken other steps to honor Anderson this season. A flag with his name on it flies beyond the outfield fence, and the team has been wearing patches with his name. Sunday's gesture was the most anticipated.
"I couldn't miss this," said former outfielder Larry Herndon, now the batting coach for the Tigers' Class A Lakeland team. "I had to be here, because I had said to some of the other guys, for me, Sparky was a life changer. I had to be here, just because ... without him, I wouldn't be able to be here. It's just a great day in that sense, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Anderson won the World Series twice in Cincinnati with the Big Red Machine before managing the Tigers from 1979-1995. He got the nickname Captain Hook in Cincinnati, a reference to his habit of pulling a starting pitcher when he got into a jam late in a game.
His daughter, Shirlee Engelbrecht, remembers that moniker well.
"I did get caught, a couple times, booing when Captain Hook would come out," she said before the ceremony. "For the Reds, I did get up there, and one time he noticed when he was coming back, I was screaming. ... But I think he set a trend, because there's not a whole lot that start a game and finish it now."
Family members remembered Anderson more for his off-field demeanor, describing him as a gentleman who taught them the right way to treat people.
"We used to be in the car and we'd bet, as he was talking with other people," Engelbrecht said. "We'd say, 'When he comes back, he's going to say, 'That's the nicest person I've ever met." And every time he'd come back -- whether it was old, young, male, female -- he'd get in the car, and he'd say, 'That's the nicest person I've ever met.' And then we'd just start laughing."
Detroit manager Jim Leyland remembered Anderson as someone who loved the game and knew how to motivate players. Gibson said he didn't always see eye to eye with his manager at first, but that changed over time.
"Sparky was a giver. He didn't like takers. He had several conversations with me and several exercises with me, trying to get me to be professional, I guess," Gibson said. "I fought him through it for a while, and he brought me to my knees in 1983, and he was right. And we won the World Series in '84.
"And here we are in 2011, it all makes sense."