It is hard to believe, but ten years ago today the Detroit Tigers played their last game at Tiger Stadium.
Ironically, just a few days ago the ballpark’s last wall was torn down, thanks largely to a decade long indifference from city development officials and Tiger owner Mike Ilitch who obviously saw no value in helping to preserve even a portion of one of the most important historic sites in the state of Michigan.
There was never a more fitting farewell to the site of nine World Series, three Major League All-Star Games, and two NFL championships than the last game at the old ballpark and the festivities that took place.
September 27th 1999 was a gorgeous, summer like day as a sell out crowd was treated to “Field of Dreams” magical experience.
Prior to the game, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Tiger legend Al Kaline, and beloved announcer Ernie Harwell addressed the crowd and shared their thoughts on the occasion. A few minutes later, Kaline and fellow Hall of Famer George Brett (in town with the visiting Kansas City Royals), dressed in full uniform exchanged pleasantries and line up cards.
In a tribute to players past, the Tiger players wore their famous home whites without names on the back. The starters wore the numbers of the All Time Tiger team. Outfielder Gabe Kapler wore a uniform without a number in a tribute to Ty Cobb who played during an era where numbers were not used.
The highlight of the game occurred in the bottom of the eighth. It would remind many of the closing scene of “The Natural.”
Prior to the game, Al Kaline, seeing that Fick was wearing former Tiger slugger Norm Cash’s number 25, told the second year player that he felt he would hit a homer that day.
Fick did not disappoint number six.
In the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded, Flick launched a majestic blast that barely missed clearing the right field roof as it bounced off the decking and back down on the field for a grand slam of all grand slams. The noise was deafening as flash bulbs went off throughout the ballpark. It was the 11,111th home run hit at Michigan and Trumbull.
The game finally ended with closer Todd Jones, wearing the last glove worn by Al Kaline in a ballgame, (Jones asked him if he could use it) struck out Carlos Beltran.
The finale would then have one last curtain call as 65 former Tigers, dressed in full uniform, walked, ran, or hobbled onto the field from the centerfield gate.
Strangely the players were not announced, but fans started applauding or cheered as they recognized their faces on the video board. The first was Mark “The Bird” Fidyrch who ran out to the mound, groomed it as he always did and then scooped up dirt into a bag as a souvenir. Willie Horton started crying, and wiped away tears as he stood in front of the left field stands. Al Kaline received a two minute standing ovation as he stood near “Kaline’s corner” while Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, the longest playing infield combo in baseball history ran out together to end the procession.
The players then stood in line as the flag was passed down through the players and given to Tiger Brad Ausmus for Comerica Park.
Elden Auker, the submarine pitcher who starred on the Tigers’ first World Championship team in 1935 eloquently addressed the crowed.
But when he mentioned Comerica Park, a chorus of boos erupted. It was certainly the loudest I have ever mustered.
Fittingly, it was the last Bronx cheer ever heard at the ballpark.
It still rings in my ears.