Wednesday, July 19, 2006

talkin' tiger stadium blues

Tiger Stadium
Another piece of my childhood appears to be a goner, as plans have been announced to demolish Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I drove by "the corner" on Saturday. to catch a glimpse while it remains intact.

A brief history: professional baseball had been played at Michigan and Trumbull since 1895, when the Tigers' predecessor in the minor Western League moved to the spot (the league changed its name to the American League in 1900 and declared itself a major league the following year). The original field on the site was Bennett Park, named after Charlie Bennett, a star catcher with Detroit's short-lived National League Detroit Wolverines in the 1880s, who lost a leg in an accident.

In 1912, wooden Bennett Park was replaced by a new steel and concrete stadium, Navin Field (named after team owner Frank Navin). Several expansions over the next two decades brought the stadium to its current size. The name also changed, to Briggs Stadium (1938, after owner/auto executive Walter Briggs) and Tiger Stadium (1961). Besides baseball, the Detroit Lions took the field for nearly 40 seasons before moving out to Pontiac.

The last major renovations were made in the early 90s, after pizza baron/Red Wings owner/one-time Tiger prospect Mike Ilitch bought the team. This proved to be a stop-gap, as the team moved downtown to Comerica Park for the 2000 season. Apart from the occasional event, the park has sat vacant - its last major function was as the site for the Bud Bowl party during this year's Super Bowl.

Tunnel Bus Stop


The southeast corner of Michigan and Trumbull was the loading area for Transit Windsor's tunnel bus. We usually parked in a dilapidated barn at the end of Dufferin St in downtown Windsor (now replaced by a modern deck and tunnel plaza expansions), then hopped on the bus. Many memories of strange bus rides, from fans reenacting Bob Uecker Lite Beer commercials ("looks like it's going to be the front row!") to serenades from wandering Hare Krishnas after the game.

 Tiger Stadium Parking

Many parking signs still dot yards near the stadium. The lots ranged from Corktown homeowners looking for extra income to professional companies. This sign stands south of the stadium, along Trumbull.


Sportsland USA

The block to the east of the stadium is an odd mix of nicely-restored storefronts that match the homes in Corktown with remnants of businesses that died when the Tigers moved. I suspect Sportsland USA falls into the latter camp, though this site indicates it hung on as late as 2002. At one point, Sportsland also had locations in regional outlet malls, selling sports memorabilia and clothing (if memory serves, Monroe and Birch Run had locations).

Maxie's Deli


Another shuttered business, on the SW corner. Maxie (Silk) passed away several years ago; I'm not sure when it closed.

They Plump When You Cook Them


The ads and concession stand signs remain intact. Ball Park Franks were a longtime sponsor of the team - full page ads in scorebooks and yearbooks, spots on the Channel 4 broadcasts. The city of Detroit owns the property and has spent millions on upkeep since the team departed. Plans and rumours for the site over the years have included housing, community centres, preserving various parts of the stadium and a Wal-Mart superstore.

If any contents are placed for sale, any guesses as to how much the bathroom troughs would go for? The obstructed view posts?

No Tickets Today


The ticket booth. Apart from the bottom half of the "e", this could still dispense seating assignments today.


Sticker Courtesy The Mike Ilitch Fan Club

Just in case anyone missed the news years ago. This bumper sticker is one of the few signs of fan commentary on the front side of the stadium. Ilitch has had a bumpy ride with the Tigers, unlike the resurrection job he performed with the Red Wings (or Dead Things, as they were for a decade before his ownership). Bad management choices and perceived penny-pinching sent the Tigers into a decade-long droop. The decision to move out of Tiger Stadium did not go down well with tradionalists, whose efforts to keep the team at Michigan and Trumbull failed.

How ironic that the stadium is slated to come down as the Tigers enjoy their best season since leaving the corner.

***

I last saw a game at The Corner around '90-'91, when a high school friend of my father's was in town on a business trip. He managed to land seats for us on top of the Tigers dugout, a great place to stretch one's legs. All I remember of the game is Lloyd Moseby cursing after striking out. I didn't take advantage of the seat to grab autographs - I suspect I thought I was "too old" for that after seeing young kids rushing down, or figured the players didn't need to be bothered further.

Another memory of The Corner here. Stories from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. All pictures taken July 15/06. - JB

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