Tiger Stadium ► Throwback Thursday

It was on this day 115 years ago the first pitch was thrown out at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers moved to Comerica Park, and played their last game at Tiger Stadium in September 1999. Ten years later, despite being designated a historic site by the state of Michigan, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Tiger Stadium was demolished after several preservation and redevelopment schemes died on the drafting table. However, the actual playing field of Tiger Stadium is still there and lovingly maintained by a local community group.

Known as “The Corner”, because of its prominent location at Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, with Trumbull’s angle creating a trapezoidal lot. However, it had many names over the years. Originally called Bennett Park in 1895, when it consisted of a playing field surrounded by wooden bleachers and a roofed grandstand in the outfield. It was named Navin Field in 1912, after Frank Navin purchased the team and had a modern stadium constructed out of steel and concrete. Incidentally, opening day was the same for Fenway Park.

After Navin’s death in 1935, it became known as Briggs Stadium, and new owner Walter Briggs embarked on an expansion project that upped the seating to a whopping — for the day — 58,000 seats. According to the WikiWackyWoo, Briggs had a reputation as a racist:

Briggs was noted for fielding a well-paid team that won two American League pennants (1940, 1945) and a World Series championship in 1945 under his ownership.[6] He had a reputation for being somewhat prejudiced against African-Americans, in part because he refused to sign black players (though he allowed blacks to work at his factory)[7] and would not allow black fans to sit in the boxes at Briggs Stadium.[citation needed] The Tigers did not field their first non-white player until 1958, six years after Briggs’ death—making them the second-to-last team in the majors to integrate (ahead of only the Boston Red Sox).

After his death his son Walter Junior tried to hang onto it, but administers for the estate forced the sale after 5 years. The new owners called it simply Tiger Stadium in 1961, one of the classic ballparks from the classic era of ‘Merka’s Pastime.

I remember going to Tiger Stadium as a kid. The Upper Decks were really up there. It seemed like a long climb to get to the cheap seats, but when you looked down, the field was right below you; so close, it almost felt like you were on the field. It was a huge deal when I was 16 and the Tigers won the World Series in 1968. We rode around in cars for days screaming out the windows.

Later, when I was a teenager, sometimes we’d do what we called a Double Header. Plum Street, Detroit’s Hippie Mecca — where I first met John Sinclair — was just around the corner. Some days me and my friends, who were all weekend Hippies, would buy incense and hang out on Plum Street before walking the few blocks to see a weekend Tiger’s game.

The Wiki also notes:

A plan to redevelop the old Tiger Stadium site would retain the historic playing field for youth sports and ring the 10-acre property with new development has received final approval, and funding.[4] Developer Eric Larson of Larson Realty will develop a mixed residential and retail project along the Michigan Ave and Trumbull sides of the property, beginning in late 2016.[4] The Detroit Police Athletic League will begin construction, in early April 2016, on a new headquarters building along Michigan Ave and Cochrane. The L-shaped building would enclose two sides of the field.[4] Together these two projects will completely ring the old site.[4]

But, there will never be another Tiger Stadium.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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