Tiger Stadium on most Opening Days could have been used for a meat locker.
With temperatures often in the 40’s, the historic double decked stadium encapsulated the long winter chill inside the concrete corridors while fans piled in through the turnstiles like they were bundled up to see the Detroit Lions play in November.
With the anticipation of a new baseball season and warm summer days ahead, there is one Opening Day visual that stands out for me above all others. Somehow it warmed me up (though briefly) like a cup of hot chocolate.
One by one, the starting Tiger players, freshly tanned from six weeks in sunny Florida, stood very briefly in line on the top step of the Tiger dugout just like Cobb, Heilmann, Crawford, Gehringer, Greenberg, and Cochrane had done years before.
Suddenly, on cue, like the release of a starting gate at a horse race, the Tigers bolted from the dugout and ran to their positions while being greeted by the cheering fans. In left field, Willie Horton would waive to his admirers before engaging in long toss with the bullpen catcher.
Perhaps the photos that accompany this piece will bring back fond memories for you.
The color photo is from Opening Day, April 15, 1972. Pictured from left to right are traveling secretary Charlie Creedon, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Aurelio Rodriguez, Ed Brinkman, Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe, and Jim Northrup. The man perched on top of the dugout (right side) taking a photograph is the legendary Detroit Free Press photographer Tony Spina.
That day the Tiger defeated the Red Sox 3-2 thanks to a complete game six hitter thrown by Mickey Lolich and a second inning two run homer by Brinkman. That year the Tigers beat out the Red Sox by a half game to win the division on the second to last day of the strike shortened season.
The black and white photo is from Opening Day, April 18, 1958. Pictured from left to right are Jim Hegan, Gus Zernial, Al Kaline (partially hidden), Ray Boone, Harvey Kuenn, Billy Martin, (manager of the ’72 Tigers) Reno Bertoia, and Frank Bolling. In that game the Cleveland Indians, led by right fielder Roger Maris, who went 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBI’s, defeated the Tigers 7 to 5 as Cleveland hurler Herb Score tossed a complete game 5-hitter. Al Kaline hit a two-run homer in the first inning. The Tigers finished the 1958 season in fifth place with a 77-77 record, 15 games behind the pennant winning New York Yankees.
I know, Comerica Park is cold too, and the fans still cheer for the Tigers when they run to their positions.
However the massive dugout has a railing in front of it and the player have to take the field from either end like a split squad.
Sorry, but it’s just not the same.