No matter how many ways you look at it, 2009 was THE year of heartbreaks for Detroit sport fans in more ways then one.
In June, the Red Wings seemed positioned to capture a second consecutive Stanley Cup against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins after Detroit won game five and took a 3-2 lead in the series. But they blew it, and lost the Cup in game seven at Joe Louis Arena no less.
And then this past October the Tigers, having led the division for most of the season, collapsed and lost out to the Twins in a one game playoff.
But those losses pale in comparison to the more profound and real heartbreaks we suffered as sports fans in 2009.
For me, the biggest heartbreaks were the deaths of former Tiger television announcer and Hall of Fame player George Kell in March and the legendary Tiger pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in April.
To top it all off, Ernie Harwell was diagnosed with terminal cancer in July, and what remained of Tiger Stadium was completely demolished by the city even though the effort to save a significant portion of the ballpark had made significant progress.
When I heard George Kell had passed away, it was like a kick in the stomach. His death at 86 was a profound loss to those who grew up listening to his beautiful Arkansas accent when he would open up his broadcast with: “Thanks Eli and good afternoon everybody, this is George Kell along with Al Kaline, and it’s a bright sunshiny day here at Tiger Stadium.”
Mark Fidrych had simply been one of the most popular Tigers of all time after his 1976 rookie season when he captured the baseball world with his pitching and personality only to have his career shortened by arm trouble. The happy go lucky Bird was one of the nicest and most genuine persons you would ever meet as was George Kell. It was truly a tragedy for him to die at 54 as he was making repairs to his truck at his Massachusetts farm.
When Ernie Harwell announced he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in July, Tiger fans everywhere were of course deeply saddened. In September Ernie appeared at Comerica Park and before a ballgame thanked the fans for their support.
What the beloved former announcer has shown in the face of death is truly inspirational as his courage and acceptance of the inevitable is something we can all learn from. Earlier this month I saw Harwell at a Grosse Pointe fundraiser and I could not believe how upbeat he was as he joked around before interviewing Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Ernie and his family.
The complete loss of Tiger Stadium was also a profound heartbreak because efforts to save a significant portion of one of Detroit’s most historic sites had made significant progress.
All that remains today is the famous flagpole, some grass, and if you look closely you can make out some of the mound and infield where Cobb, Ruth, Greenberg, Gehringer, Kell, Kaline, and Fidrych once performed.
It is very painful to even look at the site knowing what was and what could have been. And still, there is no developer or plan for the site as it sits as just another vacant piece of Detroit property. What a complete waste. To build anything else on this historic property would simply be sacrilegious.
You can thank city officials, Mike Ilitch, and the indifference by so called “business and community leaders” for allowing this to happen.
2009? You can have it.