Ilitches Feel Contempt for Tigers’ Rich History

In 1996, the 100th anniversary of the Detroit Tigers’ tenancy at the corner of Michigan  & Trumbull came and went without mention from the team.  The only tribute was a T-shirt created by Detroit Athletic Co. (then The Designated Hatter) which marked the first game ever played at The Corner, April 28, 1896.

According to sources, the Detroit Tigers are planning a marketing campaign for the 2009 season at Comerica Park to celebrate the new stadium’s 10th anniversary.  Funny how someone could miss a 100th anniversary but somehow feel a 10th anniversary is noteworthy.  For the record, The Corner’s 10th birthday would have been celebrated in 1905.

If I had to describe the Ilitches’ sentiments regarding the team’s 104 years of history at The Corner in one word it would have to be this: contempt.  From the day they bought the Tigers in the fall of 1992, they have been bound and determined to run as far away from the team’s traditions and history as humanly possible.

Think about it: they eliminated the fan-favorite Detroit Tigers yearbook; they got rid of the stadium’s famous Ballpark Franks; they changed the Tigers’ classic circle logo to one that can only be described as a bad imitation of a Minor League mark; they changed the road uniforms; they renovated Tiger Stadium with a carnival-theme not consistent at all with the park’s aesthetics; when designing Comerica Park, they departed from tradition and made the park as wildly anti-Tiger Stadium as could be imagined.

Today, while their famed former broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, is trying desperately to save a portion of Tiger Stadium, the Ilitches sit on the sidelines and refuse to lend a hand.  It’s as though they have come to truly hate the very place their fans truly love.  But why?

The truth is the Ilitches will be second-guessed for moving the Tigers out of Tiger Stadium for all of eternity — and they know it.  “Out of sight, out of mind,” is their way of addressing a decision that has emotionally affected millions of people.  Tiger Stadium cannot disappear fast enough for them.  In their minds, once it’s gone, the stadium debate (i.e., which park is better, should they have stayed, etc.) will finally be put to rest.

Of course, that is a ridiculous approach to the issue.  In essence, Mr. Harwell is trying to preserve the Detroit Tigers’ history — not the stadium’s.  One would think that the owners of the franchise would understand how important a connection to history is in baseball and that Mr. Harwell is doing them a favor.

I’ve been in the baseball business long enough to realize that there are always going to be good years and bad years.  It’s fun when your team is competitive and the home games are sold out.  But those times are few and far between.  It’s at the moments when your team is going through a rebuilding phase that its history saves the day.

Think about the marketing possibilities the Tigers could capitalize on if part of Tiger Stadium were to be preserved: Fantasy camps, old-timer games, concerts, home run derbies, guided tours, special events, etc.  They are limited only by their imaginations — and their desires.

It’s not hard to believe that someday, when the ownership changes (and eventually it will) the new owner will not feel as threatened by the Tigers’ history as the Ilitches do.  All things would be possible with a fresh mindset.  There’s still time, however, for “Mr. I.” to have a change of heart and realize he is letting a valuable team asset slip through his fingers.

Embrace your team’s history, Mr. Ilitch — before it’s too late.