Indifference dampens the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Detroit’s Navin Field

Volunteers have been caring for the site of Navin Field, but the city of Detroit continues to rebuff plans to do something with the lot.

This Friday media outlets across the country will carry the news of Boston’s Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Fenway Park.

And rightly so.

It is a wonderful story of how a franchise, a city, and its’ people embraced its history and renovated a classic ballpark.

But for those in Detroit and throughout Michigan who appreciate baseball history, it is hard not to feel bitter about the missed opportunity to renovate and preserve the ballpark that had had once stood at Michigan and Trumbull and that opened as Navin Field the same day as Fenway Park. (The Tigers had in fact had played at the site since 1896 when it was originally a wood structure called Bennett Park.)

Nine World Series, three major league All Star games and two NFL world championship games were played on what is now an empty diamond surrounded by an ugly chain link fence. 204 Hall of Fame baseball players performed on the site that evolved from Bennett Park to Navin Field to Briggs Stadium and then to Tiger Stadium.

Thousands continue to make a pilgrimage to that movie set farm field in Iowa where Kevin Costner lured Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie Field of Dreams, but the genuine field of dreams is right here in Detroit where the real Shoeless Joe, then playing for Cleveland, scored the very first run at Navin Field on that cool April day in Detroit.

Yet the only remnant left is the famous flag pole that still flies Old Glory thanks to an anonymous donor. And thanks to the generosity of Brooks Lumber Company across the street, the flag is illuminated at night from a light on top of their building.

Bitterness can turn quickly to anger when one starts thinking about the role of George Jackson of the Detroit Economic Development Corporation, who based upon his words and actions, has seemed hell bent from the get go to strike down any proposal that would preserve the famous diamond at Michigan and Trumbull. Is he carrying the water for someone else behind the scenes? Who knows?

At every turn, despite legitimate proposals to renovate and preserve the site for the past twelve years, (including a $3 million federal subsidy and an offer from Chevrolet), Jackson, city officials, and the Mayor have ignored the efforts of U.S. Senator Carl Levin, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, and private developers that wanted to preserve a portion of the old structure and the diamond as part of a development.

(It is my understanding that Jackson’s role will be further looked at in the upcoming documentary Force- Out, the sequel by filmmaker Gary Glaser whose documentary Stranded at the Corner won a local Emmy.)

But the bitterness also emanates from the apparent indifference given to the site by the Detroit Tigers and the “powers that be”, including leaders in business, government, foundations and even historic preservation organizations that have seemingly turned their heads away from that little green space in Corktown.

For God’s sake, one third of the land in Detroit is reportedly vacant!

And you can’t tell me that this historic little acre in Corktown cannot be preserved and celebrated.

If not for the dedicated efforts of volunteer Tom Derry whose ad hoc “Navin Field Grounds Crew” has religiously groomed the diamond for the past two years, this historic site would be a trash strewn field full of giant weeds, rocks, and pigeon shit.

Frankly, despite the laudable effort behind closed doors, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy has not been especially public or otherwise outspoken about their vision and the roadblocks they have faced. On the eve of the 100th Anniversary of the field they are seeking to preserve, it will be interesting to see if the group is even doing anything that day.

I, for one would love to see the Conservancy or someone make an offer to purchase the property and proceed with preservation of the diamond.

Last time I checked, it seemed the city could use the money.

23 replies on “Indifference dampens the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Detroit’s Navin Field

  • Rob Graham

    Good article. I believe its a race issue…primarily white ball players played at this site for generations. Need I go any further?

  • Deborah

    Thank you, Mr. Dow. I cannot understand why GM was rebuffed, why this hallowed ground is not being used as a way to unite various groups who come at the “Detroit” issue from different histories and viewpoints. The field could heal and invigorate. Mayor Bing is missing the boat on this, it’s disappointing and confounding. Thanks to the Navin Field crew, and writers like you, for vigilance. Keep talking!

  • Hank

    I’m as sick of hearing about Tiger Stadium as I am of the Titanic sinking. OK, it was a great place while it lasted, I first started going in the ’50s, but now its gone so get over it. Pour some of that energy and bitterness into issues that REALLY matter to Detroit—crime, the crappy school system, etc. Getting all blubbery over something that ain’t there anymore seems like a giant waste of time for grown adults. We might as well have a Recreation Park ground crew or a Zamboni driver for where Olympia once stood, if dwelling on “the good old days” is all that occupies someone’s day.

    Change is constant. That’s the history of the planet, like it or not. That’s how this city grew, knocking shit down and building something in it’s place. Someday, in 2075 or 2112, there’ll probably be a Comerica Park Ground Crew and our great grand kids will be blubbering about what a great place it was.

  • jerry palmer

    race has a lot to do with it . jackie robinson has his own day ,but no great white player has the same . ty cobb ,babe ruth and lots more had way more to do with why baseball is the greatest , baseball woild still be the best even if there was never a jackie robinson .

  • jerry palmer

    the corner of michigan and trumbull should have always stayed the home of the detroit tigers . tiger stadium had its own great look . i will never forget seeing that great ball park for the first time .

  • Duncan Hines

    At a time when the city of Detroit could use a big dose of encouragement and hope about preserving this historic site not only for Detroit but MLB, in general, the City turns its collective back.
    I’m sure thousands of Tiger fans everywhere are bitter and angry about this insane thinking as, no doubt, pockets are being filled behind the scenes. Ernie Harwell’s hopes and dreams of preserving part of this history has faced a wrecking ball decorated with dollar signs.

  • Steve Thomas

    Thanks, Bill Dow. I was just in Boston last week and witnessed the celebrations of Fenway Park first-hand. Boston’s respect for its history — and Detroit’s disdain for its — is abundantly apparent in the cities themselves. Even more interesting is the fact that the Boston Red Sox have won two World Series Championships in Fenway Park since Comerica Park opened. Two different philosophies, two radically different outcomes.

  • Peter Comstock Riley

    Thanks Bill! Your thoughts are right on the money. You know I’ll be doing what I can look forward to seeing you at the Corner Friday and Celebrating a 100 years of memories. =)

  • Christine Fry

    A well written column, Mr. Dow, and thank you for it. As a Bostonian who was a proud member of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club from 1983 through 1999 and who then joined the Save Fenway Park effort in 2000, this year has already been very bittersweet for me. I loved Tiger Stadium and made many visits there over the years, and in some ways (at least in my opinion) it was better than Fenway due to its abundance of good, cheap seats that were close to the field. I have so far bought none of the Fenway 100th books and memorabilia for two reasons; the anniversary only rekindles my mourning for Tiger Stadium, and if you knew of the quantity of abject hypocrites who lusted to tear down Fenway (so we could have a beautiful new stadium–just like in Cleveland!–gag me!) who are now seeking to burnish their own reputations by jumping on the 100th anniversary bandwagon, it would be enough to turn your stomach. I was always very appreciative of Peter Comstock Riley’s efforts to maintain Tiger Stadium after the Tigers left it, and I still have a “Don’t Let Them Make the Biggest Error in Baseball” poster hanging proudly in my house. Oh how I miss Tiger Stadium, and I’m sure I only feel this a fraction of the extent that you do. Please keep your chin up during these sad times, and thank you for all you do (and have done) on behalf of Tiger Stadium and the current Navin Field/Tiger Stadium site, even if the ballpark is unfortunately gone.

  • Cecilia

    I doubt it has that much to do with racism. After all, Tiger Stadium is where Willie Horton played. (I could add Earl Wilson, Chet Lemon, Lou Whitaker, etc., but Willie is still revered.)

    Mayor Bing allowed the expansion of Cobo Hall, which included tearing down Cobo Arena. Not only was that place very important to Blacks, it was also where Dave Bing made his name in Detroit.

    I don’t know why the City cannot agree to sell the property. They must have an insurance liability for it. If they are waiting for a better offer, they ought to know by now that it isn’t going to come soon, and the City will just keep having to pay out until such an offer comes along. That certainly is not smart.

  • Alex Bensky

    And one of the iconic pictures of Satchel Paige in his Monarchs uniform clearly shows the right field upper deck of Tiger Stadium behind him.

    Indeed, Hank, Detroit has serious problems. Spending a hundred and fifty million (or more) public dollars on building a stadium that was not needed certainly didn’t help.

    Tiger Stadium was one of the few places in Detroit itself that people in the city and beyond loved and treasured. When you go to Boston or Chicago one of the thinks you think about doing is taking in a game at Fenway or Wrigley; it’s an important part of those cities’ texture.

    Instead of a place that might actually have become a tourist attraction and continued to engage the affections of people in this area we have a new facility that isn’t even as good as most of the other new taxpayer stadiums…and a empty lot in the middle of a city that, as the always erudite Mr. Dow points out, is more than just one of thousand such weed-strangled lots because of people who still love it.

    Anyone who thinks that what we have now is an advancement should think again.

  • Ray Banister

    Great article. My question to all is what can we do? If there are so many of us that want to see something done to save this field as the historic landmark that it should be what should we be doing? I may be foolish to still believe that our politicians work for us “the people” but I do. How do we ensure that a majority of people want this? If a majority of the residents of Deroit and beyond do then let’s make it happen. As I said it is a great artical now we need a call to action. As I am not a resident of Detroit I will start by reaching out to our politicians at the state level. If anyone knows of anything else we should be trying to do please share.
    I do believe that the city of Detroit has better things to spend time and money on so how to we get them to relieve themselves of this that problem by selling the land and allow a private well run organization to manage this effort?
    My rant is over but will hope to see more information and pledge my support if there is anything that can be done.

  • Art Neely

    Why are some people making this a race thing!All types of great players played here!!!!Detroit needs to get over all race issues!IT IS 2012!!!!GO TIGERS!!!!

  • Eric Blade

    Just having a major league field down the road from a real major league park, where fans could play a pickup game before an evening game or after a night game, could be a huge draw.

    Detroit should unlock the gates permanently – leave the fences up to collect the garbage blowing in – and take any offer to buy the property. No one wants to build anything in Corktown, so there’s no reason to hold out for some industrial developer .. who if they have a heart of any kind would probably laugh and say “you really want me to build on top of this land?”

  • Karen Elizabeth Bush

    This is a definitive, tasteful statement summarizing absurdity — something that is difficult to do.

    A number of years ago, Del Shannon, author of multiple detective stories, put words into the mouth of her main protagonist (a police lieutenant) that underscore an essential truth to which Bill Dow has alluded most carefully. All crime, according to Shannon and her Lieutenant Luis Mendoza, is caused by ‘the stupidity and the cupidity’ of the criminal.

    Never doubt but what it was limited intelligence, shallow thinking, lack of foresight — and pure greed at some level or other that brought Tiger Stadium down and that today deliberately blocks preservation and reuse of a valuable, historic, and — dare I say it — highly marketable playing field.

    Any businessman, any politician, any student of Marketing 101, can survey a map of downtown Detroit, examine area demographics, and analyze local commerce and come to the conclusion that there are other, more attractive locations than the Corner of Michigan and Trumbull from which to realize profit through investment in residential, retail, or manufacturing development. That same person, if his attention is called specifically to that particular corner, will see a location that, for a number of years has attracted a steady stream of local and outstate patrons, generated ongoing voluntary maintenance, and even seen serious (if limited) renovation without the expenditure of a single dollar to “prime the pump” — to advertise, or encourage public involvement.

    In response to the single voice among these blog entries who decries ongoing nostalgia for Navin Field, Briggs Stadium and Tiger Stadium (please note, sir, that you are all alone) — let’s put all this in a slightly different context than that of sentiment.

    A restored and preserved playing field at the Corner of Michigan and Trumbull is as close to a “sure thing” for an investor as there is. Furthermore, the process of restoration guarantees favorable publicity for that investor as long as the thing being restored is maintained. (Why else do you think Chevrolet was so interested in the Corner?)

    And why, then, are Detroit authorities — politicians who at least nominally are responsible not just to the people of Detroit, but to everyone affected by Southeastern Michigan commerce — so adamantly opposed to any use of the property that does not involve utter destruction of what went before?

    We are left with Lieutenant Mendoza’s ‘the stupidity and the cupidity’. It should be noted that those are two elements that often capitalize upon one another.

  • Cliff Parker

    This is a bunch of crap!!! The park should be preserved as a historical landmark!!! Anything else would be crazy and stupid!!! GO TIGERS AND GO LIONS!!!


    Hello to All Tiger fans anywhere in the World
    Just wanted to show even in The Netherlands we care about Tiger Stadium so at a time when the city of Detroit could use a big dose of encouragement and hope about preserving this historic site not only for Detroit but MLB, in general, the City turns its collective back.
    I’m sure thousands of Tiger fans everywhere are bitter and angry about this insane thinking as, no doubt, pockets are being filled behind the scenes. Ernie Harwell’s hopes and dreams of preserving part of this history has faced a wrecking ball decorated with dollar signs.

  • John Abel

    My grandfather took me to my first game at Briggs Stadium in 1956. Frank Lary won. I’ve been to that ball park every year until the city ruined it. So many characters went with it: “The Brow” in the bucket hat cheering the crowd, Herbie on the ground crew, the peanut guy outside the park. The vendor that tossed the hot dog buns. Seeing Ernie wiping off a counter at the consession stand. Gates Brown & Joe Galls on the phone in the corridors. Watching the players park their cars in the stadium lot. Joe Gentile announcing, Bob Taylor singing the Anthem. Hearing the player talk and watching pitchers warm up five feet from your seats. The right field overhang. Seeing Jack Morris leave the WJR van parked across Trumble to pitch the opener. Listening to J.P. McCarthy’s opening day show while driving to Tiger Stadium. I could go on and on. Thank God for the memories. Losing that ball park was like losing a family member. I miss it almost as much.

    • Dan Holmes

      John, thanks for sharing your memories of Tiger Stadium. I remember Herbie too, and asking my dad “Who is that guy and why is he dancing in the infield?”

  • Gary Hernbroth

    I don’t understand “Hank” and his negative post — I do understand progress, and how some people fixate too much on the past, but this is different. This is honoring such an integral part of the city of Detroit. I grew up in Warren, now live in California, and I know the 2 things people who i run into from Michigan in my travels want to talk about — Tiger Stadium and Motown music. The City has preserved the Motown Studio as a historic landmark, why not Tiger Stadium? Going to Tiger games as youngsters is one of the galvanizing things about being from Detroit– everyone can relate. To listen to “Hank”, i suppose he would say go ahead and build a condo unit and Burger King on the Gettysburg National Battlefield,too, since it was progress. It would be great if they built a working field there, so Little Leaguers, etc., could play in that historic acreage. At least put up some kind of something and take down that awful fence, so people could come and walk the grounds. If the money is offered, why turn it down? Doesn’t Tiger Stadium deserve the same (if not more) treatment than the Motown building. Both are icons of the City, and should be treated as such.

  • Sea-Rad

    Being a diehard Tiger fan since 1966 @ 10 yrs old who lives in Orioles and now Nationals land, it was THE experience of a lifetime to sit behind 1st base at Tiger Statium in 1985. Repeated it again in 1992 with my bride (of course she dosen’t GIT it, being a Pittsburgher). My only hope is to get to Coamerica Park before I die, to personally root for MLB’s best team !

  • Sam Crow

    What a shame. I would literally travel as a tourist to Detroit from the West Coast to see this field if it was preserved with some historical memorabilia and treated with the respect it deserves. Detroit is missing out on the creation of a destination for people by ignoring the site. Very short sighted, indeed. Why not create a mini replica of Tiger Stadium (like those field of dreams parks) and charge leagues to play there as a business opportunity?

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