Another Icon To Become A Memory

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 21, 2006
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The fate of one of America’s few remaining ties to its sporting past has been decided. And not for the better. After years of trying, and failing, to find a developer or organization to take on the monumental task of preserving a monument, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has announced that Tiger Stadium will be no more. The wrecking ball is expected to arrive this fall after a more detailed development plan is approved by the city council. A historic salvage consultant will also be brought in to determine what artifacts from the stadium will be put up for sale.

As sad as it is to see the demise of another cultural landmark, the death of Tiger Stadium has been a long time coming. The stadium was old and worn out when the Tigers were still playing there. After sitting empty for a decade and costing millions for the most basic of upkeep, it became a financial drain on a city that simply cannot afford it.


Over the years, supporters of the structure have fought to keep it as the home for the Tigers, and after the construction of Comerica Park, to preserve it as a historical landmark. Some went as far as gathering a large group of like-minded people to literally hug the stadium in an expression of their feelings. More recently, the Michigan Trumbull LLC, a group devoted to saving the stadium, has tried to find an economic solution to keeping the park alive. Like a number of other interested parties, it was unable to find anyone to take on the enormous financial challenge of developing the property while keeping the stadium virtually intact. The group’s founder and president, Peter Comstock Riley, said he will look for a last-minute reprieve, but concedes the fight is probably lost.

The exact plans for the property is yet undetermined. The basic idea calls for demolishing 90 percent of the building while keeping part of the field for Little League games, concerts and such, and constructing retail and residential properties. Whatever is decided, foremost consideration must be given to respecting the history of the location that has been the home to baseball since 1896 and the charm that made it stand out. And stand out it did.

The flag pole in the playing field, the right field bleachers that hung over the playing field, the 440-foot center field wall where would-be home runs stalled for long outs, the mammoth light tower that Reggie Jackson used for target practice in the 1971 All-Star Game, the seats that seemed closer than the dugouts, and the intended or accidental design that allowed the field to slowly open up before you with dramatic effect as you moved from the darkened interior to the brightness of the field that seemed to glow in the reflection of the green grass.


And of course there were the men who played and managed there. Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, Hal Newhouser, “Wahoo” Sam Crawford, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Al Kaline, Sparky Anderson and Hugh Jennings. And that’s just some of the local Hall of Famers. After 87 years of service, think about the athletes who graced that patch of grass in urban Detroit. It’s amazing.

For one year in particular, the Detroit Tigers, and the old stadium that was their home, provided more than simple entertainment for the masses - they may have saved the city. In 1968 cities burned following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was white against black, rich vs. poor, city vs. suburb. And though it would be naive to think baseball solved everything - Detroit had a riot of its own the year before - there was one place where everyone could come together; Tiger Stadium. With Denny McClain becoming the last man to win 30 games in a season and the Tigers on their way to winning the World Series behind universally popular players like Kaline, Willie Horton, Gates Brown and Bill Freehan, Tiger Stadium was a refuge. Did it solve the city’s problems? No. Did it help people forget their troubles for a few hours? Yes. And that’s all you can ask for.

Tiger Stadium: 1912-2006. Goodbye, old friend.

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