By H. Jose Bosch
Tiger Stadium, which stood watch at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull for nearly a century, will most likely be laid to rest today or tomorrow.
All that remains is a portion of the lower deck wall at the corner of Cochrane and Michigan.
The official age of death will be 97.
The corner of Michigan and Trumbull, known as Bennett Park, became the Tigers’ first home on April 28, 1896 — a 17-2 win over the Columbus Senators.
On September 24, 1896, Bennett Park became the site of Detroit’s first night baseball game when the team’s owner George Arthur Vanderbeck had workers string up lights above the stadium.
Bennett Park officially became a Major League park in 1901 and in 1907 and 1908 the field famously became the location where the Cubs clinched their last two World Series. The Tigers played their final season at Bennett Park in 1911.
Following that season the Tigers had acquired the rest of the block, demolished the “wildcat” bleachers beyond the left field fence, and reoriented the field by 90 degrees with the new home plate standing in the old left field corner.
On April 20, 1912, Navin Field was born and the orientation of the field and stadium would remain the same throughout the rest of the 20th century.
In 1935 the new owner, Walter Briggs, oversaw the expansion of Navin Field, increasing the seating capacity from 23,000 to 36,000. During that same year the Tigers won their first World Series, defeating the Chicago Cubs 4-2 and clinching the title in font of a capacity crowd at Navin Field.
Three years later, in 1938, the left field was double-decked to increase the capacity to 53,000 and the stadium was renamed Briggs Stadium. This was also the year the Detroit Lions began playing its games on the same grounds as the Tigers. Football was played at Michigan and Trumbull until 1974.
Briggs Stadium saw its second World Series championship in 1940 when the Tigers lost to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games and its first All Star Game in 1941. The series came back in 1945. The stadium hosted games 1-3 and Detroit went 1-2. But the Tigers became a part of Cubs lore once again when it went 3-1 the rest of the series and clinched the title in the last World Series game ever to be played in Wrigley Field.
The All Star Game came back to Detroit in 1951 and the National League won 8-3.
In 1961 the Tigers’ new owner John Fetzer renamed the stadium for the final time, giving it its most famous moniker, Tiger Stadium. That year was also one of the few times a team has won over 100 games without making the postseason. The Tigers, with 101 wins, finished eight games behind the Yankees.
The name Tiger Stadium wouldn’t see its first World Series until 1968 when Detroit battled the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals. Detroit hosted games 3-5. For the first two games of the home stand Detroit’s fortunes were grim as the Tigers lost by a combined score of 17-4 and trailed 3-1 in the series.
But it was during that game five in Detroit that the momentum changed with the help of Willie Horton and Bill Freehan. The Cardinals had raced to a 3-0 lead and in the fifth inning Lou Brock doubled and St. Louis threatened to break the game open. But following a single to Horton in left, Brock tried to score from second and was thrown out at the plate — thanks to a great block by Freehan — ending the rally and possibly saving the series. Detroit eventually won the game and the series for its third world championship.
By the 1970s Tiger Stadium was showing its age and the team and city decided to give the park a face lift. But before the park was changed, Detroit hosted its final All Star Game at Tiger Stadium in 1971. It was during this game that Reggie Jackson famously hit a home run off the light towers, estimated to be 520 feet from home plate. It was also Roberto Clemente’s final appearance in an All Star Game.
The Tigers won the American League East pennant in 1972 but the quality of play declined after that. In 1977 the old green wooden chairs were replaced by plastic blue and orange ones and the stadium itself was repainted blue to match the seats.
The World Series came back to Detroit during that season as the Tigers squared off against the Padres. Detroit clinched the series in Game 5, at Tiger Stadium. Kirk Gibson provided the series’ exclamation point with a three-run homerun in the eighth.
The Tigers came close to another World Series in 1987 but fell short in the American League Championship series against the Minnesota Twins. On October 12, 1987, Detroit lost to the Twins 9-5 in what was Tiger Stadium’s final postseason game.
In 1992 new owner, Mike Illitch made more improvements to the stadium by adding the Tiger Den — a section between first and third on the lower level with padded seats — and Tiger Plaza — an outdoor concession area built in the old players’ parking lot.
Unfortunately the improvements were only cosmetic as the team itself played poorly for the rest of Tiger Stadium’s lifetime.
The final game at Tiger Stadium was played September 27, 1999. The Tigers defeated the Royals 8-2 and Robert Fick notched Tiger Stadium’s final homerun, hit and RBI with his eighth-inning grand slam off the right field roof. The ball was retrieved by Tiger personnel but its whereabouts are unknown.
As are the whereabouts of Robert Fick.
In 2000, Tiger Stadium was the filming location for the HBO move *61 and played itself and Yankee Stadium for the movie. One year later, on July 24, 2001, the stadium hosted a Great Lakes Summer Collegiate Game between the Motor City Marauders and the Lake Erie Monarchs. It was the final time a baseball game of any kind was played at the corner.
The Tigers sponsored a fantasy camp in July 2002 in what was the final baseball-related public event held in the stadium.
On February 4 and 5, 2006, Tiger Stadium hosted Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Bowl 2006 as a part of the festivities for Super Bowl XL. It was the final time a public event of any kind was held in the stadium.
Since then the stadium has been standing dormant at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, slowly but surely rotting and crumbling.
Its final fate was decided long ago but today the remaining physical vestiges of the stadium will be torn down. Rather than a rotting ball park, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull will now just be a large empty lot.
Both scenarios are pretty depressing for Metro Detroiters.
Throughout the entire debate over whether or not to keep the stadium I always had a soft spot for Tiger Stadium and those who wanted to preserve it. I’m a traditionalist and love old historical buildings.
I’ve been to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park and fell in love with the history of both. My first Major League baseball game, the only time my dad caught a foul ball and the only time I’ve been on a jumbo screen are among the many memories I associate with Tiger Stadium. I would’ve loved to see it have the same fortune as Fenway or Wrigley but, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
As much as I wanted to see the park standing, I couldn’t defend allowing it to rot the way it was.
So, for the final time, I want to say goodbye Tiger Stadium.
This post also appears on the blog Michigan and Trumbull.
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