The 1930s were a decade of economic hardship for Detroit as the Great Depression crippled the automobile industry and its workers. Ironically, it was a booming time for the city’s beloved baseball team.
The Detroit Tigers were serious pennant contenders throughout the decade and won back-to-back American League Championships in 1934 and 1935. They lost the ’34 Series to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gas House Gang, but came back the next year to beat the Chicago Cubs for their first World Series title.
Sadly, team owner Frank Navin died within weeks of the long-awaited celebration. Upon Navin’s passing, a minority owner of the Club, Walter O. Briggs, bought the remaining shares and became the team’s sole owner. Mr. Briggs, a self-made entrepreneur, was a Tigers fan from their days at Bennett Park. The industrialist — and Tigers fanatic — soon began plans for a massive expansion of Navin Field. His new ballpark opened on April 22, 1938 before 54,500, the largest Opening Day crowd in Tigers’ history.
Flag raising ceremony at Briggs Stadium on April 22, 1938.
Briggs Stadium was a state-of-the-art, fan-friendly facility. It was the first stadium in the world to have an underground sprinkler system and the first to have a tarp to cover the infield.
What remains at the corner of Michigan & Trumbull today is actually the structure of Briggs Stadium — and this year marks the 70th anniversary of its opening. Although the ballpark was known as Briggs Stadium until 1961, there are more and more Tigers fans who don’t realize Tiger Stadium once went by a different name. We are constantly asked “where was Briggs Stadium?” when people see the commemorative T-shirts and memorabilia we sell.
When I first started selling peanuts outside of Tiger Stadium in the early 1980s, I remember people referring to the park as Navin Field from time to time. That doesn’t happen much anymore. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before most Detroiters will forget their heritage — and the name Briggs Stadium.
It would be nice if the local media would pick up on the anniversary and explain the significance of Briggs Stadium. In its day, Briggs Stadium was considered the best ballpark in all the Major Leagues and Mr. Briggs spared no expense in its upkeep. Some recognition for his contribution to Detroit baseball would be wholly appropriate — and long overdue.