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Tiger Stadium

In 1895, Detroit Tigers owner George Vanderbeck had a new ballpark built at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull avenues. That stadium was called Bennett Park and featured a wooden grandstand with a wooden peaked roof in the outfield and bleachers surrounding the infield. At the time, some places in the outfield were only marked off with rope.

 

The 20th century

In 1911, new Tigers owner Frank Navin ordered a new steel-and-concrete baseball park on the same site that would seat 23,000 to accommodate the growing numbers of fans. On April 20, 1912, Navin Field was opened, the same day as the Boston Red Sox's Fenway Park. The intimate configurations of both stadiums, both conducive to high-scoring games featuring home runs, prompted baseball writers to refer to them as "bandboxes" or "cigar boxes" (a reference to the similarly intimate Baker Bowl).

 

Over the years, expansion continued to accommodate more people. In 1935, following the death of Frank Navin, new owner Walter Briggs oversaw the expansion of Navin Field to a capacity of 36,000 by extending the upper deck to the foul poles and across right field. By 1938, the city had agreed to move Cherry Street, allowing left field to be double-decked, and the now-renamed Briggs Stadium had a capacity of 53,000.

 

Also in 1938, the NFL's Detroit Lions began a relationship that allowed them to host their home games at Briggs Stadium. They would play there through the 1974 season, before moving to the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Pontiac.

 

In 1961, new owner John Fetzer took control of the stadium and gave it its permanent name: Tiger Stadium. Under this name, the stadium witnessed World Series championship seasons in 1968 and 1984.

In mid 1968, area sports enthusiasts were excited at the prospects that professional sports teams, the Detroit Lions and the Tigers, were actively investigating the possibilities of a new major sports facility. The excitement was generated by the fact that the city of Pontiac and its community leaders made a presentation to the Metropolitan Stadium Committee of a 155 acre site on the city's east side at the intersection of M-59 and I-75. The Metropolitan Stadium Committee voted unanimously for the Pontiac site. The city commission later appointed a Stadium Authority which spent the greater part of 1969 completing the necessary economic feasibility studies in constructing such a stadium. The city made the professional sports franchises aware that a stadium could be built and financed in Pontiac. Initially, a dual stadium complex was planned that included a moving roof that was later scrapped due to high costs and the lack of a commitment from the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise. In 1973, ground was broken for a stadium to exclusively house the Detroit Lions.

 

The stadium gained a reputation in the 1970s and 1980s for its aging facilities and obstructed views, but was beloved by local baseball fans for its historic feel. Box and most reserved seats were close to the action. In 1977, the Tigers sold the stadium to the city of Detroit, which then leased it back to the Tigers. As part of this transfer, the green wooden seats were replaced with blue and orange plastic ones and the stadium's interior, which was green, was painted blue to match.

 

In 1992, new owner Mike Ilitch began many cosmetic improvements to the ballpark, primarily with the addition of the Tiger Den and Tiger Plaza. The Tiger Den was an area in the lower deck between first and third base that had padded seats and section waiters. The Tiger Plaza was constructed in the old players parking lot and consisted of many concessionaires and a gift shop.

 

After the 1994 strike, plans began to construct a new park, but many campaigned to save the old stadium. Plans to modify and maintain Tiger Stadium as the home of the Tigers, known as the Cochrane Plan, were supported by many in the community, but were never seriously considered by the Tigers. Ground was broken for the new Comerica Park during the 1997 season.

 

On September 27, 1999, the final Detroit Tigers game was held at Tiger Stadium; an 8-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals, capped by a late grand slam by Robert Fick. Fick's 8th inning grand slam hit the right field roof and fell back onto the playing field, where it was retrieved by Tigers personnel. Fick's blast was the final hit, home run, and RBI in Tiger Stadium's history. The whereabouts of the ball are currently unknown. Following the game, an emotional ceremony with past and present Tigers greats was held to mark the occasion. The Detroit Tigers moved to the newly constructed Comerica Park for their 2000 season leaving Tiger Stadium largely unused.

 

The 21st century

From the departure of the Detroit Tigers in 1999 through early 2006, the city of Detroit spent nearly US$4 million maintaining Tiger Stadium.

 

In the summer of 2000, the HBO movie 61* was filmed in Tiger Stadium. The film dramatized the efforts of New York Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris during the 1961 season to break fellow Yankee Babe Ruth's single-season home run record of 60. Maris actually accomplished the feat.

The process of converting Tiger Stadium to old Yankee Stadium began with painting seats, columns, walls, stairs, facades and anything that was visible to the distinctive pale light green color of Yankee Stadium before the park underwent a massive renovation in the mid-1970s. In the DVD documentary about the making of the film, production designer Rusty Smith revealed that he believed no accurate representation of the exact shade of green existed until someone in the Yankees organization said that director Billy Crystal, a diehard New York Yankees fan who idolized Mickey Mantle, had a wooden seat from the old stadium. While it was mostly painted blue, there was a large chip that revealed the green paint underneath.

 

However, old Yankee Stadium had three tiers whereas Tiger Stadium had only two. In post-production, the uppermost tier was cloned and pasted on top. Filligrees and other distinctive elements of old Yankee Stadium as well as vistas of The Bronx beyond the walls of the park were also added via CG. Signage completed the illusion. In the ending credits, Tiger Stadium is credited as playing Yankee Stadium. Rusty Smith recounted that when Billy Crystal saw Tiger Stadium dressed as the Yankee Stadium he remembered from his youth, he became very emotional.

 

Coincidently, Roger Maris hit his first home run of the 1961 season at Tiger Stadium.

During the very last days in which part of Tiger Stadium was still standing, scenes for the film, The Irishman, depicting the old Cleveland baseball stadium were shot at the stadium, extending for a day (demolition continued the day after the single day shoot at the stadium on June 5, 2009) the life of Tiger Stadium.

 

Upon completion of filming of the Yankee Stadium scenes, the seats and ballpark were repainted to their Tiger Stadium colors and appearance.

 

On July 24, 2001, the day Detroit celebrated its 300th birthday, a Great Lakes Summer Collegiate Game between the Motor City Marauders and the Lake Erie Monarchs was played at Tiger Stadium. It was in an effort by a local sports management company that is seeking to bring a minor-league franchise to Detroit in the Frontier League

 

In July 2002, the Tigers sponsored a fantasy camp with instructors Jason Thompson and Milt Wilcox. For many, this was the final time that Tiger Stadium was opened to the public for a baseball-related purpose.

Since then, The Corner has been used periodically to videotape special segments, such as the appearance of Denny McLain on Fox Sports Net's Beyond the Glory and a pregame piece for the 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star Game featuring Ernie Harwell.

 

On Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5, 2006, a tent on Tiger Stadium's field played host to Anheuser-Busch's Bud Bowl 2006. Among performers at the nightclub-style event was Snoop Dogg. After several years out of the public eye, the Bud Bowl event led the Detroit Free Press to make the interior of the stadium the feature of a photo series on February 1, 2006 . These photos showed the stadium's deteriorating condition, which included trees and other vegetation growing in the stands. Anheuser-Busch promoted the advertising event as Tiger Stadium's Last Call.

 

In early 2006, the feature-length documentary Stranded at the Corner was released. Funded by local businessman and ardent stadium supporter Peter Comstock Riley, and directed by Gary Glaser, it earned solid reviews and won three Telly awards and two Emmy awards for the film's writer and co-producer, Richard Bak (a local journalist and the author of two books about the stadium). It was also shown at the inaugural National Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival, held in Cooperstown, New York, November 2006.

 

Demolition

Many private parties, non-profit organizations and financiers expressed interest in saving the ballpark after its closure. These included multiple proposals to convert the stadium into mixed-use condominiums and residential lofts overlooking the existing playing field. One of the more ambitious plans involved recruiting and housing a minor league baseball team in a reconfigured, Navin Field-era park (with its original size and layout). This redevelopment would also encompass a museum, shops, and conference space. By 2006, demolition appeared inevitable when then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced the stadium would be razed the following year, making many of the prior plans seem contradictory or speculative.

 

On December 18, 2006, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) hosted a walk-through for potential bidders on a project to remove assets from Tiger Stadium that qualified as "memorabilia" and to sell these items in an online auction hosted by Schnieder Industries. Once the stadium was stripped of seating, signage, and other items classified as non-structural (i.e. support columns) which would yield income for the City of Detroit at auction, demolition would commence. According to individuals familiar with the meeting between potential bidders and the DEGC, all items except the foul poles, the center field flagpole, the auxiliary scoreboards along the first and third base lines, and the neon "TIGER STADIUM" lettering would be available. The DEGC made their proposal official in June, 2007, following an initial delay of the demolition decision by the city in March, 2007. Initially, this announcement from DEGC seemed to settle the longstanding matter of what would happen to the old and abandoned stadium.

 

On July 27, 2007, the Detroit City Council approved a plan to demolish Tiger Stadium before September 2008. However, they did not vote to give control of the project to the DEGC. Removal of the neon "TIGER STADIUM" lettering on the structure, as well as some seating, commenced but were not auctioned; instead these were reportedly donated to the Detroit Historical Society.

 

By November 2007, with the neon lettering and much of the seating already removed, the DEGC issued a request for proposals from companies interested in a partial demolition of the site. Preliminary plans included in the DEGC's request showed that the lower deck of the stadium would remain from dugout to dugout (also including the elevator tower at the corner of Michigan Ave. & Cochrane, as well as the broadcast booth). The upper deck in that section, along with the remainder of the structure, would be demolished. The plan called for any seating removed from the saved area to be replaced at a later date.

The DEGC awarded the demolition contract on April 22, 2008, with the stipulation that demolition revenue would come from the sale of scrap metal, and not from the City of Detroit. Wrecking crews commenced operations on June 30, in the wall behind the old bleacher section facing I-75 near the intersection of Trumbull Avenue. The demolition of the left field stands opened up the stadium's interior to view for the first time in decades on July 9, 2008 (the ballpark had been double-decked since the late 1930s).

Plans to keep the dugout-to-dugout portion of the stadium were contingent upon the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy being able to:

 

    * Raise $369,000 by August 1, 2008 in order to pay for maintenance and security costs of the remaining dugout-to-dugout structure, Prove it had a $12 to $15 million financial plan to save the baseball diamond, 3,000 seats and a museum that would house Hall of Fame Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell's vast collection of sports memorabilia.

 

This partial demolition was completed in September 2008, at which time a March 1, 2009 deadline was set for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy to raise $15.5 million for preservation and construction of the museum, educational space and working ballfield. The conservancy raised $150,000 the following month (the first of two proposed payments to the city towards purchase), but faced a deadline three days later to provide another $69,000, as well as an additional payment in December to offset costs for site and architectural plans. Over the ensuing months, the conservancy asked for extensions in order to secure funding and delay demolition of the remaining structure. A $3.8 million earmark was included in a proposed spending bill sent to Congress by U.S. Senator Carl Levin[MI], which would help aid the process. This bill was passed by the House.

 

Citing the numerous delays brought about by the conservancy's requests, and alleging the conservancy ultimately could not raise the remainder of the money, the Detroit Economic Development Corp., led by chairman George Jackson, voted to demolish the remainder of the ballpark on June 7, 2009. The conservancy subsequently requested a restraining order barring demolition; however, when the court reconvened on June 8, the order was not extended, with the judge citing that the conservancy had not met the DEGC's demands. The razing of the park's remains was to commence almost immediately after the higher court's ruling.

 

Just prior to this ruling, Tiger Stadium was the site of a scene filmed for the upcoming independent movie The Irishman, starring Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken. In the same way the ballpark was featured as Yankee Stadium in the movie "61*", Irishman features Tiger Stadium portraying Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium.

 

In spite of the final demolition issue, Senator Levin stated on June 10 that $3.8 million in federal earmarks were still available for preservation of the field: "...preservation and redevelopment of a public park and related business activities."

The music video for "Beautiful" by rapper Eminem shows parts of the bleachers behind home plate being demolished.

 

The pilot of the HBO series Hung featured the stadium's demolition in its opening scene.

The last remaining part of the structure fell at approximately 9:24 am, Monday, September 21, 2009.

 

Features

Tiger Stadium had a 125 ft (38 m) tall flagpole in fair play, to the left of dead center field near the 440 ft (134 m) mark. The same flag pole was originally to be brought to Comerica Park, but this never took place. A new flagpole in the spirit of Tiger Stadium's pole was positioned in fair play at Comerica Park until the left field fence was moved in closer prior to the 2003 season.

 

When the stadium closed, it was tied with Fenway Park as the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball the way the dates are normally reckoned. The two stadiums opened on the exact same date in 1912. Taking predecessor Bennett Field into account, this was the oldest site in use in 1999.

 

The right-field upper deck overhung the field by 10 feet (3 m), prompting the installation of spotlights above the warning track.

 

Supposedly due to then-owner Walter Briggs' dislike of night baseball, lights were not installed at the stadium until 1948. The first night game at the stadium was held on June 15, 1948. Among major league parks whose construction predated the advent of night games, only Chicago's Wrigley Field went longer without lights (1988).

 

Unlike Comerica Park and many other modern stadiums, Tiger Stadium featured an upper deck bleacher section that was separated from the rest of the stadium. Chain link fence separated the bleachers from the reserved sections and was the only section of seating not covered by at least part of the roof. The bleachers had their own entrance, concession stands, and restrooms.

 

Tiger Stadium saw exactly 11,111 home runs, the last a right field, rooftop grand slam by Detroit's Robert Fick as the last hit in the last game played there .

 

There were over 30 home runs hit onto the right field roof over the years. It was a relatively soft touch compared to left field, with a 325 foot foul line and with a roof that was in line with the front of the lower deck. In left field, it was 15 feet farther down the line, and the roof was set back some distance. Only four of the game's most powerful right-handed sluggers (Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Cecil Fielder and Mark McGwire) reached the left field rooftop. In his career, Norm Cash hit four home runs over the Tiger Stadium roof in right field and is the all-time leader.

 

Like other older baseball stadiums such as Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium offered "obstructed view" seats, some of which were directly behind a steel support beam; while others in the lower deck had sight lines obstructed by the low-hanging upper deck.

 

Stadium usage

Baseball

At the Corner on July 13, 1934, Babe Ruth hit his 700th career home run. As noted in Bill Jenkinson's The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, the ball sailed over the street behind the then-single deck bleachers in right field, and is estimated to have traveled over 500 feet on the fly.

 

Ruth also had a good day in Detroit earlier in his career, on July 18, 1921, when he hit what is believed to be the verifiably longest home run in the history of major league baseball. It went to straightaway center, as many of Ruth's longest homers did, easily clearing the then-single deck bleacher and wall, landing almost on the far side of the street intersection. The distance of this blow has been estimated at between 575 and 600 feet on the fly.

 

On May 2, 1939, an ailing New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig voluntarily benched himself at Briggs Stadium, ending a streak of 2,130 consecutive games. Due to the progression of the disease named after him, it proved to be the final game in his career.

 

The stadium hosted the 1941, 1951, and 1971 MLB All-Star Games. All three games featured home runs. Ted Williams won the 1941 game with an upper deck shot. The ball was also carrying well in the 1951 and 1971 games. Of the many homers in those games, the most often replayed is Reggie Jackson's literally towering drive to right field that hit so high up in the light tower that the TV camera lost sight of it, until it dropped to the field below. Jackson dropped his bat and watched it sail, seemingly astonished at his own power display.

 

On April 7, 1986, Dwight Evans hit a home run on the first pitch of the Opening Day game, for the earliest possible home run in an MLB season (in terms of innings and at bats, not dates).

 

After the Tigers moved, Michigan&Trumbull, LLC. rented the stadium for four separate baseball games (Collegiate Wood Bat League games, vintage base ball games, and a women's baseball game; the women's game was played between the Detroit Danger Women's Baseball Club and the Toronto All-Stars and was hosted by the WBL (Women's Baseball League, Inc.) on August 11, 2001. The Danger beat the All-Stars, 3-2. The women's baseball game become the first-ever all-women's baseball game played at Tiger Stadium in its entire history).

 

Professional football

Tiger Stadium was home to the Detroit Lions from 1938 to 1974 when they dropped their final Tiger Stadium game to the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving Day. The football field ran mostly in the outfield from the right field line to left center field parallel with the third base line. The benches for both the Lions and their opponents were on the outfield side of the field. (A "possession" symbol, with its light bulbs, for football games could still be seen many years later on the left field auxiliary scoreboard.)

 

Films

The stadium was depicted in Disney's award-winning Tiger Town, a 1983 made-for-television baseball film written & directed by Detroit native, Alan Shapiro, starring Roy Scheider, Sparky Anderson, Ernie Harwell, and Mary Wilson, and (as Briggs Stadium) in the 1980 feature film Raging Bull where the stadium was the site of two of Jake LaMotta's championship boxing matches. Tiger Stadium was also seen in the film Hardball starring Keanu Reeves, Renaissance Man with Danny DeVito and in the aforementioned film 61*, where it "played" the part of Yankee Stadium as well as itself.

 

In the film 61*, Tiger Stadium is shown painted blue, with blue and orange seats, but that was its appearance after a renovation in the late 1970s. In the year 1961, the stadium and the seats were painted dark green.

 

During the very last days in which part of Tiger Stadium was still standing, scenes for the film, The Irishman, depicting the old Cleveland baseball stadium were shot at the stadium, extending for a day (demolition continued the day after the single day shoot at the stadium on June 5, 2009) the life of Tiger Stadium.

 

Other events

On June 28, 1996, hard rock band Kiss, performed their first show for their Reunion tour at Tiger Stadium in front of 39,867 fans, with Alice in Chains and Sponge as the opening acts.

 

It has been postulated by numerous residents that the stadium could be used and converted into a soccer arena, allowing for a potential MLS franchise, but lack of support by government officials has essentially killed this idea.

 

Northern Irish professional soccer club Glentoran called the stadium home for two months in 1967. The Glens, as the team from Belfast are known played under the name Detroit Cougars as one of several European teams invited to the States during their off/close season to play in the United Soccer Association.

 

In February 2006, Tiger Stadium's field was used for the 2006 Anheuser-Busch Bud Bowl advertising event, part of the unofficial Super Bowl XL festivities.

References in popular culture

 

    * Sports Illustrated featured a poll of major league baseball players asking which stadium is the favorite to play in. Tiger Stadium usually placed within the top 5.

 

    * Green Cathedrals quoted Joe Falls, sportswriter for The Detroit Free Press, who used to say that there was a sign over the visitors' clubhouse entrance that read "No visitors allowed".

 

    * In Douglass Wallop's 1954 novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (which inspired the Broadway musical Damn Yankees), Joe Hardy makes his debut for the Washington Senators team during a doubleheader at Tiger Stadium, hitting a game-winning home run in each game. During batting practice he hits one ball over the right-field roof.

 

    * Artist Gene Mack, who drew a series of pictures of major-league parks, mentioned a bone that Ty Cobb used to "bone" his bats as part of his care for them. The bone stayed in the clubhouse after he left the Tigers in 1926, and, indeed, after he retired in 1928. In his autobiography, he noted that the last time he visited the Tigers' clubhouse (he died in 1961), that bone was still in use. As of 1999, when the Tigers completed their tenure at Tiger Stadium, a bone remained a fixture in the clubhouse on a table next to the bat rack.

 

    * "Michigan and Trumbull," a song by Michigan indie-pop band The Original Brothers and Sisters of Love, pays tribute to Tiger Stadium in its last season.

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Tagged:
1934 World Series, 1935 World Series, 1940 World Series, 1945 World Series, 1968 World Series, 1984 World Series, Ball Parks of Yesterday, Baseball History, Detroit Tigers, Frank Navin, Mike Ilitch, Tiger Stadium, Walter Briggs

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