Next week’s All-Star game is getting a lot of buzz because it’s part of the farewell tour of Yankee Stadium. And at the end of this season it will be sad to say good-bye to a place associated with that much baseball history.
But an even sadder thing is happening this week in Detroit, as Tiger Stadium, home of the Tigers for 75 years, is being demolished after city and community leaders couldn’t agree on a plan to save the ballpark.
There are plans to preserve the flagpole, foul poles and playing field, but the rest of the historic structure at Michigan and Trumbull Avenue will be gone by week’s end. I have no first-hand insight into the politics and economics of the situation, but it’s a shame that the Powers that Be couldn’t find a way to keep the structure intact as a landmark or museum after the Tigers moved to Comerica Park in 2000.
My favorite of the old-time ballparks is Wrigley, but Tiger Stadium is a very close second. It was intimate, rustic and had a very distinctive design with a lot of cool quirks. It was a downright fun place to watch a ballgame.
My only experience in Tiger Stadium came in July of 1999, a few months before it closed, when my father and I took a trip to Detroit for the sole purpose of seeing the ballpark.
We stayed out in Dearborn and drove into the city. For whatever reason, we ended up renting a bright red Chevy Monte Carlo, which stuck out like a sore thumb as we drove up Michigan Avenue, past a series of delapidated buildings, strip clubs and auto repair shops. We arrived at the stadium really early, more than an hour before gates even opened, and parked our car across the street. We were practically the first car in the lot. The attendant came up and put one hand in the air—just one hand—and said “that’ll be 10 dolla.” My father gave him a five dollar bill. It was like something out of a Vaudeville comedy act.
Anyway, I vividly recall standing in line outside the stadium and commiserating with other fans, including one couple from San Diego that was RVing around the country and decided to make a stop and see the ballpark.
Now, the thing about Tiger Stadium was that you couldn’t really see the inside of the place until you actually got inside. There were no big openings from the street or concourses that gave you a peek. So when we finally walked through the narrow entrance to our section, the sight of the stadium sort of opened up before us like a vast landscape. I remember my knees buckling.
(I should note here that around this time I was a big Detroit Tigers fan. There was no real rational reason why, except that my hometown Phillies were kind of depressing ast the time and I decided to latch onto the Tigers because in the 1990s they had an interesting mix of great veterans like Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker but other guys that were fun to root for, most of all Cecil Fielder. In 1999, they were sort of seen as a team on the rise, with good, young guys like Bobby Higginson, Tony Clark and Gape Kapler. Even Rob Fick, who hit the final homerun at Tiger Stadium, was hailed as a good prospect back then. Kind of a shame how things didn’t really work out for that group.)
Anyway, my father and I saw two games against the Red Sox, including this wild one, a 11-4 Tigers loss that featured 10 homeruns, including three by Boston’s Trot Nixon.
For one of games, we sat in the very first row of the left field upper deck, and I recall being totally amazed and how close I was to the field. The second deck was supported by columns and basically placed right on top of the firstright field actually jutted inward —and at times, I felt like I could reach out and touch the outfielders.
(Not sure if this is true, but someone there at the ballpark told me that on nights in the 90s when the Tigers weren’t drawing well, players claimed they could hear Ernie Harwell’s play-by-play of the game.)
I don’t fault the Tigers or the city of Detroit for closing Tiger Stadium and moving the team to a new downtown ballpark. But for 9 years, the old facility sat empty. And now it’s gone.
Perhaps turning the ballpark into a museum wasn’t economically feasible. Perhaps it cost to much to maintain the stadium as a landmark. Perhaps proposals to use the stadium as part of some sort of condo or retail complex just never made sense. But in instances like these, it’s Major League Baseball that should step in with the necessary funds to do what’s needed to save the place. Eventually, all of these stadiums will be gone, and the game of baseball will be poorer for it.