Is there a Tiger Stadium Curse?

Prince Fielder made a baserunning gaffe in Game Six.

Prince Fielder made a base running gaffe in Game Six.

The Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series, and the Detroit Tigers are not. The better team is moving on to represent the American League in the Fall Classic. From roster spot #1 to roster spot #25, the Sox are deeper than Detroit, even though Detroit’s top trio of starting pitchers were the best players in this series. Their efforts were not enough to hold off the relentless Sox, who from their manager to the last pitcher in their bullpen, were better suited for this long, tough series.

Ultimately it was a number of things that combined to create the perfect storm and serve as an immovable obstacle for the Tigers. The offense couldn’t break through, the bullpen pitched poorly, the team suddenly and shockingly played listless in their home park, and their manager, a grizzled old man respected by many in baseball for his years of experience, performed a bizarre “spin-the-wheel” bullpen merry-go-round in Game Two when it seemed the Bengals were poised to pounce on the Sox for a commanding two game lead.

Ironically, the end came at Fenway Park, an historic sports mecca which serves as a bitter reminder to many Tiger fans of what could have been in Detroit. Tiger Stadium (then known as Navin Field) opened on the same day as Fenway, 101 years ago. As long as the two ballparks were both in use, the Tigers got the best of the Sox most of the time, winning four World Series after 1934, while Boston went 86 years without one. But, since Tiger Stadium was abandoned in 1999, Detroit has failed to win a World Series, while Boston has won two and has a chance at a third.

Is there a new curse – The Curse of Tiger Stadium? Woe if it be so.

Consider this: Boston went to painstaking lengths to ensure that Fenway Park was saved. Small seats and cramped clubhouses didn’t stop the owners of the team from remodeling it and increasing revenue. As they did so, they worked with the city to make sure the park maintained an historic, iconic feel. As a result the park, and not the team, is the biggest star for this franchise. The famous left field wall, The Green Monster, is like a citizen in itself, with freshly built seats atop it. The tiny neighborhood that Fenway occupies is the heart of the city, it draws thousands of fans on non-game days, it breathes life into the surrounding area.  When talk of a new ballpark in Boston took place years ago, Red Sox fans were successful in persuading team ownership that a renovated Fenway Park made more sense and with some creative updates was more than capable of providing the team with the revenue required to win.

By contrast, Detroit bolted their ballpark, the exact same age as Fenway, never once seriously entertaining any plans to preserve it or update it. Muscled by the Ilitches and political forces, the city refused to listen to community organizations who fought to keep it vibrant.  The ideas and vision of the most massive and passionate civic movement in Detroit’s history, simply known as The Tiger Stadium Fan Club, were systematically thrown in the garbage by two regimes of Tigers owners and by city officials.  The Tiger Stadium Fan Club offered, free of charge, the same type of ideas that fans in Boston provided to the Red Sox.  Thoughtful ideas that would have given additional revenue to the Tigers while preserving the historical integrity of what was commonly considered the grandest ballpark in all of baseball.

After the Tigers left in 1999, the stadium was left to decay, an embarrassing monument to the dysfunction of the city. The paint peeled, gates rusted, and weeds grew. Finally the park was bulldozed, and even when civic organizations offered to fund development on the site to keep a baseball park there, they were rebuffed. People were chased off the lot, the weeds continued to grow, and now, even though the site of Tiger Stadium is manicured by volunteers, it sits largely unused, ignored, shunned. The Corktown neighborhood is still largely barren and desolate. Vacant land abounds. People walk past The Corner as if it was just another intersection.

In the last eight years the Detroit club has reached baseball’s final four on four occasions, winning two pennants. But they’ve been steamrolled in the World Series, rolling over each time to their National League foes. Despite a roster littered with superstars, an owner with a fat checkbook, a front office that almost always makes great baseball decisions, and a loyal fan base, the Tigers have been unable to garner a championship. Three straight division titles, individual honors (Cy Young’s and MVP awards almost every year), and sellout crowds make for heightened baseball fever in Motown, but every season another team raises the trophy, another city holds a parade.

If there was a championship parade in Detroit would they even route it past Michigan and Trumbull? Would it even matter? There’s no Tiger game tomorrow and none the next day either. It doesn’t feel good considering the talent on this team, but that’s the way it is. Changes are sure to come for this franchise, but I’ll write about that another day. For now, it’s simply over, suddenly, haltingly over.  And the team with the oldest stadium in all of professional sports is going to the World Series.

25 replies on “Is there a Tiger Stadium Curse?

  • Bob Brontosaurus

    Yep, that’s it. A Tiger Stadium curse. Ya know, like a Bobby Layne curse explains the Lions’ futility.

    Must’ve been a Recreation Park curse a long ways back, too. Ya know, after the Wolverines won it all in 1887 and then the team folded the following year and the park was torn down, NO DETROIT TEAM WON A WORLD SERIES UNTIL 1935. Some spooky shit.

    But how to get rid of such curses? Will sprinkling chicken blood and chanting “Hoo-doo, we-doo, voo-doo” over the grave of Chief Hogsett or Hunchy Hoernschemeyer suffice? I’m hoping the DAC blog will send someone down to Haiti to find out.

  • Mitch

    Of course there’s no such thing as curses, but the article’s point is well made. When Bo Schembechler was president of the Tigers he proclaimed that the Tigers couldn’t be “shackled to a rusted girder and be expected to win.” Well, sorry Bo, Tom, and Mike — the Boston Red Sox have most definitely proven you wrong. What an amazing parallel of two similar situations handled 180 degrees differently and the unconventional prevailing. I’ll be sure to visit Fenway Park on my next trip to Boston.

  • John Stoddard

    Rest assured that the irony — and humiliation — of losing to the team that plays in the oldest stadium in baseball was not lost on Mike Ilitch last night. The man is seeking redemption that his myopic vision for a new ballpark in Detroit was the right move for the franchise. Losing to the Boston Red Sox, at Fenway Park no less, proves just the opposite. I think Comerica Park is a fine venue, but the history and character of Tiger Stadium can never be replaced. Congratulations, Boston Red Sox fans who proved to team ownership that an historic ballpark was worth saving — and to the ownership themselves for listening. Too bad our team owner wouldn’t listen to anybody.

  • Aaron Reed

    THANK YOU for having the guts to publish articles like these! We certainly don’t see writing like this coming from the mainstream media in Detroit. They seem to be afraid of being blacklisted or something so they just tow the company line for the local sports teams. You guys tell it like it is and remind me of the days when Detroit’s newspapers had real writers who weren’t afraid to tell the truth.

  • Rick

    Great article Dan. But I think it’s unfair to put any of this on Mr. Illitch. I believe this whole state would have to look far and wide to find anyone (and I doubt they would) who has invested more money in downtown Detroit. Yes, I too love the old ball park but without knowing Mr. I’s intentions I assume his main reason was a downtown renaissance not destroying a monument. Whatever the reason the sad reality is the season is over. You mention a lot of assets that this team has and yet it continues to under achieve. There is ONLY one answer to that. Time for the Tiger brass to own it. Brian Murray was a great guy and good coach but the Wings didn’t win till he was fired. I for one believe it’s time.

  • LeAnn Blevins

    As a long-time Tigers fan but Tennessee resident, i visited The Corner during its last season. I also visited Fenway the next year. Walking up to Tiger Stadium was like a scene from “Field of Dreams 2” to me…i felt i could brush the ghosts of fans & players past from the air in front of me as i got closer. I received a behind-the-scenes tour from a friend who worked there, one that i still enjoy remembering. Ive also stood at the hole made by a wrecking ball & cried. But the differences between Tiger & Fenway were painful in how one team’s owners embraced & and another’s dismissed the value of history. We plan to take our kids to see the Tigers @ Comerica next season, but the highlight of the trip will be helping clean The Corner & play a pickup game on those hallowed grounds. A curse…maybe not literally, but emotionally, it sure feels like it.

  • Tom Mastersen

    I’m glad someone has the nerve to say these things. The point is not about curses – we know curses are rubbish – the point is that the Red Sox are winning World Series titles AND being financially successful in the oldest ballpark in baseball. Players want to got to the Red Sox, fans want to see the ballpark and the team. Detroit could have had that, Detroit could have embraced their past and also moved forward. It didn’t have to be a choice between the two. Boston proved that, and their win over the Tigers in this series is a reminder once again of what Detroit is not. I “like” Comerica Park, but I LOVED Tiger Stadium. Millions of people did, including non-Tiger fans. It was an iconic place and it could have been home to a winner again, it didn’t need to be abandoned. If you want to talk finances – it’s obvious a new ballpark wasn’t needed to make money. Boston proved that. A renaissance could have occurred at The Corner just as it has in downtown near Comerica and the Fox Theatre, etc. Anyone who knows anything about Detroit politics knows that the powers that be wanted a new build for many reasons, but that doesn’t make it right. Keep publishing thoughtful articles like this, we need all voices heard.

  • Larry the Giant Lizard

    What is the point of rehashing the same, tired debate about Tiger Stadium? The old ballpark is gone and it ain’t coming back. Next year the Tigers will play their 15th season at Comerica. Any Tigers fan under the age of 22 or so has no real memories of his favorite team playing anywhere else.

  • Paul Donovan

    I’m 20 years old, Giant Lizard, and I still know about Tiger Stadium from stories my dad and grandmother tell me. I went to Tiger Stadium when I was 5 and I’ll never forget it. It was very cool to go to a stadium that my grandfather attended. A man I never knew because he died before I was born. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that history doesn’t matter to the young. It matters to me and I wish I could take my kids someday to the ballpark that connected 4 generations of my family. Unfortunately, it is completely gone.

  • Joey Torres

    Man, it was a fun run this year. It always is for Detroit fans as we are passionate people. Especially with our sports teams. Changes coming for the Bengals next year? Has to be. We have been right there for several years and can’t quite get over the hump. Marlboro Mans fault? I don’t think so. Will he be fired? That is a very real chance this time. He is a man of great knowledge of the game and wisdom. But he is not winning championships. When I look at the last two teams that knocked us out San Fran and Boston, I see speed, defense, timely hitters, be it a single to advance a runner or a home run that is meaningful. Intelligence on the base paths, and a desire to win from ALL the organization. I hate to say this, turning 50 this year and all. But the game has evolved and I’m not sold that Leland has with it. We may need a new skipper. One with a competitive edge that he motivates his players with. One that can bring the basics of playing the game. I keep thinking of a Michigan Man like Kirk Gibson.
    Curse. Not so much. I, like you, loved the corner. I loved the obstructed view seats, the closeness we had with the players. I’ve had several, Several!..conversations with our players and opposing outfielders in my $ 4.00 bleacher seats. I liked the toughness of the corner. Parking in liquor store parking lots, fearing no one or nothing. The corner gift shops, the neighborhood bars with pictures of Tiger greats, and stories waiting to be told. But a curse. I don’t feel a curse would have allowed us to have so much fun and emotions in these times of drudgery in the “D” and Michigan in general. But I’ve been thinking. And Dan may have a point about a curse. A fine read by the way. I have a bag of sand from the pitchers mound of that last game played at the corner in 1999. Although I have moved to Kansas City, I still have it. Perhaps it is a form of ashes and it’s soul needs spread out somewhere, I will do my part and release them. If you guys can think of a place it needs to be. Maybe that is what’s holding us back. I’m game. Sand on.

  • Larry the Giant Lizard

    I wish I could take the little grand-lizards to Tiger Stadium, too (and for that matter, Olympia Arena, downtown Hudson’s and Kern’s, etc.). But I don’t own one of those fancy way-back machines. If I did, I’d set the dial for 1898 and watch the Tigers at Bennett Park.

  • Chris Guyor

    I’m sorry… I realize this is supposed to be clever repartee, but missing Tiger Stadium is one thing… using yesterday’s loss as a platform to complain is juvenile. It was a great stadium, but it was lacking in many ways… even Jack Morris, the best pitcher of the 80’s and the star of the last championship team just opined on how he prefers Comerica. Illitch and his family have put tons of money and time and sweat into this team and this town. Buildings get old… you can’t save them all. Olympia was a far more beautiful, historic building than Joe Louis.. but the Wings have done just fine there. Even Yankee Stadium was rebuilt… just let it go already, and enjoy the great team and stadium we have.

  • Gabe Anderson

    The people taking offense to this article are missing the point. Of course Comerica Park is a “better” stadium than Tiger Stadium. All in all, it cost $500 million! The perspective of the article is valid because we’ve had some time to see how history has played out. Two similar teams took two very different approaches to their history and the one that honored its history and its old ballpark has had more success. Kudos to the author for addressing something that Mitch Albom or the other Detroit sports writers would never address.

  • Cindy Benson

    As a Detroit Tigers fan, I will now root for the Boston Red Sox as our representatives of the American League. I didn’t realize until I just read this that even the Sox were talking about a new ballpark at one time. Very glad the fans prevailed. Cool history.

  • Russ Tillman

    You may recall that when there was talk of leaving Tiger Stadium there was a flurry of new baseball stadiums being built (and designed by one architect) for many teams. The Tigers got on this assembly line bandwagon and got Comerica. While I certainly understood the limitations of Tiger Stadium, a good designer could have reconstructed and given us the uniqueness of Tiger Stadium in the new stadium design. Rather we got costlier seats that were further from play and the latest stadium design that came off of this architect’s board. When I talk Tiger baseball among fans I never hear fans talk about the uniqueness of Comerica like they did about that lady called “Tiger Stadium.” Tiger Stadium was as much apart of the experience as the Tigers and the game they played. That is now lost!

  • Peter

    Let it go, that stadium has been gone 13 years. How many times did the Tigers win three straight divisional titles in Tiger Stadium?

  • Joseph Novak

    Didn’t Boston suffer the 86 year curse (?) over Babe Ruth?

    Leyland overmanaged game 2? As the beer commercial says best, “it’s only wierd if it doesn’t work.”

    In the end Boston was the better team. Periold. Case closed. end of story. Move on.

  • J.D.

    Nice article Dan. But except for their bullpen and team speed, don’t believe these Sox were better than the Tigers. Remember, these are largely the same guys who QUIT on their CITY and FANS last year because they didn’t like Bobby V. And their RIDICULOUS bearded appearance this year just illustrates their lack of MATURITY and INTELLIGENCE. I love Fenway and hate to pull against the AL, but GO CARDS!!!!! And KUDOS to you Rick for blaming our failure on Leyland rather than Jhonny. Nice to see you have a new SCAPEGOAT!!!!

  • kizer

    Maybe the baseball gods are punishing Ilitch for spending so much money on the Wings and ignoring the Tigers for so long. As a fan that sat in the seats watching the Bob Hamelins and CJ Nitkowskis playing while Luc Robatille got paid . . . I wouldnt weep if he went on to the great reward without winning a championship

  • Michael Stephen Bryant

    Fenway park is the worst stadium ever. The “Green Dumpster” is just plain stupid. It’s like folding up only half of a ping pong table to play against yourself. It’s not even baseball. The wrong stadium got torn down. Whoever even built it should be dug up and kicked in the backside.

  • otto

    I’ve attended about 30 games since the joke call Coma Park opened. I’ve attended hundreds at Tiger Stadium. Even during the lean years of the 90’s, that cathedral was a destination for myself and many friends and family. The current generation of fans will never speak about Comerica Park like we do today about Tiger Stadium.

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