Sparky Anderson laughs in September 2009, reminiscing about the 1984 World Series champions. He passed away in November 2010. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Detroit — It was five years ago this September, and all the men, most graying, gathered in a secluded area of Comerica Park for a group picture.
Jack Morris turned to Dan Petry and said:
“Take a good look around, because there’s a chance this will be the last time we see all of this group together.”
Morris said that at the 25th reunion of the 1984 World Series champions. And Morris turned out to be correct.
The following May, legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell passed away at the age of 92, and that November, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson died at 76. Then, just last year, the 1984 hitting coach, Gates Brown, passed away at 74.
All three, plus the late Aurelio Lopez and Dwight Lowry, all will be on the minds of the former Tigers players and coaches Monday night, when many will gather at Comerica Park to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the last Tigers team to win it all.
“There’s no doubt that they will be on our minds,” Petry said Saturday afternoon, during “Hardcore Baseball” on Detroit Sports 105.1. “I remember when we took that picture in 2009 ... it dawned on us.
“You just never know.”
Harwell and Anderson both were at the 25th reunion, where Anderson gave a touching — and, true to himself — funny speech to a faithful, if soaked, crowd. (The game would be rained out.)
Now, the men are gone, but surely not forgotten — not by a fan base forever grateful for the World Series Anderson helped deliver, and for the thousands of summer nights Harwell’s voice kept us company in living rooms and on porches.
“He was the most unique person I’ve ever known, he was one of a kind,” Paul Carey, Harwell’s broadcast partner for 19 years, said on Detroit Sports 105.1. “There’ll never be another Ernie Harwell. Oh boy.”
“I think of him almost every day,” Carey said, choking up. “And I miss him very much.”
Several former Tigers players and coaches won’t be in attendance, either — some because of their own health issues, others because of prior commitments. The no-shows will include Lance Parrish, the Tigers manager at Double-A Erie; Larry Herndon, the Tigers hitting coach at Single-A Lakeland; Jack Morris, a Twins TV analyst; Willie Hernandez; and Kirk Gibson, the manager of the Diamondbacks.
Gibson attended in 2009, but declined an invitation this time — in part because of the current struggles of his Diamondbacks team.
These are tense times in Arizona, said Dave Rozema, Gibson’s good friend and a long-time Tigers pitcher.
“It’s been kind of a stressful season so far,” Rozema said on Detroit Sports 105.1. “I would love to see him, I know the fans would.
“I think it’s best for him to relax and focus on his team. He’ll hear a lot of the stories.”
Among the Tigers expected to attend Monday’s festivities — which will include an afternoon luncheon, followed by a Q&A with fans at the park and finally a pregame ceremony — are Alan Trammell, Gibson’s bench coach in Arizona; Lou Whitaker; Dave Bergman; and many others, Petry and Rozema included.
Tickets still are available for the game against the A’s.
Fans are encouraged to arrive early if they want to score a Tigers retro road jersey, to be given away to the first 20,000 through the gate.
Tune in to Detroit Sports 105.1 every Saturday, from noon-1 p.m., when The News’ Tony Paul hosts “Hardcore Baseball.”