Oh, what could have been. In a season that promises so much hope to fans in Detroit, the city could not only be looking forward to a possible World Series, they could be looking back and celebrating a century in a grand ballpark.
Instead, Detroit watches as Boston holds celebrations commemorating Fenway Park – on the same day that the Tigers would have celebrated 100 years in Tiger Stadium. Indeed, the world of baseball will turn its’ head toward that city on the east coast while Tiger Stadium gets little more than a footnote mention on April 20.
It could of – and should have – been different. As Bill Dow writes, politics, backroom deals, and plain old arm twisting ensured that Tiger Stadium felt the smack of the wrecking ball. If the will of the people of Detroit and the fans of their baseball team had been followed, there would still be a majestic, 100-year old treasure at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Whether it hosted the Tigers, another professional team, or weekend ballplayers, it should have been saved.
The city of Detroit has had a chip on its’ collective shoulder for a very long time. It’s never felt like it’s been given it’s due. At one point it was the technology center of the country, a sort of early 20th century Silicon Valley. Engineers, entrepreneurs, and workers flooded to Detroit when the auto industry exploded in the 1920s. Heck, that’s even how we got some of our ballplayers. Willie Horton’s father moved to Detroit to take a job building cars.
Yet, despite being in many ways the engine that drove America and helped win World War II, Detroit remained notches below other great cities. There was New York, of course. But more aggravatingly, Chicago was just a few hundred miles away, glimmering as the capital of of the Midwest. That city, built on a foundation of mud and in large part on the backs of pigs, rose to cultural and business prominence, while Detroit sat in the shadows. It was galling to many Detroiters.
On the field, Detroit has steadfastly pursued glory with hard work and ingenuity, working to keep the pace with Chicago, New York, and Boston. On April 20, 1912, they christened one of the first concrete and steel ballparks in the county – Navin Field at the now famous (but neglected) corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Due to rain delays, on the same day the Red Sox opened Fenway. The ballparks were home to two of the most exciting teams in the sport, and they had a lot in common.
But today, Fenway remains as a symbol of the city, of the past, and of what a community can do to honor its’ treasures. Tiger Stadium is gone. And the way it went was almost brutal. Where Boston has cared and cultivated their ballpark like a rare flower, the city of Detroit treated theirs like a disease. It was covered up, abandoned, and finally expunged.
So, this week and this season the Red Sox and the city of Boston will celebrate ten decades in the same ballpark – a structure more famous than the team itself. A modern pyramid that houses not just memories and cherished legends, but serves as a hub to a city that has their own inferiority complex to wrestle with. But that didn’t stop the Sox and the city from protecting their landmark, nor did an 86-year championship drought. No, the city of Boston remade their aging ballpark as needed, primping and gutting, painting and remodeling when necessary. Even shaping the neighborhood to fit Fenway Park. The old neighborhood near The Corner is barren.
The Tigers will not wear a patch on their sleeves in 2012 to honor Tiger Stadium. They won’t welcome back players who starred there. We won’t see Kaline and Lolich and Horton, Trammell and Whitaker and Gibson, trotting onto the hallowed ground at The Corner. The ground is still there, but the ballpark has been smashed and carted away. A new ballpark stands a few miles away, closer to downtown, shiny and modern. A new scoreboard rises above left field, almost serving as a shield to hide the 100-year anniversary.
Tiger fans will miss out on hearing the voice of Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey – one on tape the other in person – hosting a celebration on the ground where Ty Cobb flashed his spikes, Hank Greenberg hit home runs, Hal Newhouser dug at the mound, Rocky Colavito patrolled the outfield, Whitaker and Trammell turned double plays, and Mark Fidrych talked to a baseball.
No one is talking about Tiger Stadium anymore because it isn’t where it should be, it isn’t there to host ballgames. And that’s a shame for the city, for the fans, and for generations of players who never got a chance to smell the grass.