Tiger Stadium was buzzing on this particular Sunday afternoon. It was only the third inning and already seven home runs had been hit. The ball was jumping around the old ballyard like Sparky Anderson after his 20th cup of coffee.
Chad Curtis opened the barrage, his first-inning drive off Chicago’s James Baldwin landing in the left-field seats. He was followed a few minutes later by Cecil Fielder, whose blast into the center-field bleachers brought in another three runs.
The next inning, Curtis and Fielder repeated their act off Baldwin. But then the White Sox started flexing their muscles, banging three home runs in a row and driving starter David Wells from the mound.
By the end of the day, Detroit and Chicago hitters had gone yard 12 times. The Tigers accounted for a club-record seven homers, including two by Kirk Gibson and one by Lou Whitaker, while the White Sox chipped in with five of their own to overcome a six-run deficit and win the battle of the scoreboard, 14-12.
“It stunk,” Sparky said afterwards. “It was awful.”
That was the losing manager’s assessment. From a fan’s perspective, the bombardment had been fun to watch—and to count. The dozen dingers on May 29, 1995 established a still-standing major-league record for home runs by both teams in a game. (Seven years later, on July 2, 2002, the same two teams would tie the record at U.S. Cellular Field with each club belting a half-dozen.) The 1995 homer-fest broke the existing mark first set on June 23, 1950, between the Tigers and Yankees at Briggs Stadium. That night, an inside-the-park home run by Hoot Evers with two out in the bottom of the ninth delivered a wild 10-9 Tigers victory and capped a barrage of 11 home runs.
During the 104 years the Tigers called The Corner their home, more home runs were hit there than at any other venue—somewhere around 11,500 in all, if one counts all the Western League, postseason, and All-Star games played there between 1896 and 1999.
Of course, the leisurely home-run trot was practically unheard of during the deadball era, which covered the 16 summers at Bennett Park (1896-1911) and the first several seasons at Navin Field, which was built on the site in 1912 and later expanded and renamed Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium.
Bennett Park, like all turn-of-the-20th-century ballparks, was not designed for long-ball hitters. In 1904, for example, Detroit and visiting batters combined for a grand total of seven home runs at The Corner. The cavernous outfields, coupled with a mushy ball and a conservative approach to hitting, made the sight of a fence-clearing drive a rare experience. Most round-trippers were of the inside-the-park variety, the hitter steaming around the bases as fielders hurriedly retrieved the ball and attempted to nail the runner at the plate before he could score. When Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown in 1909, all nine of his home runs (including six at Bennett Park) required him to leg it out at full gallop.
The gradual elimination of trick pitches, the introduction of several fresh balls during games, and the friendlier dimensions of the new parks being built resulted in a rapid escalation of balls sailing into the seats in the years following World War I. Soon the old one-base-at-a-time philosophy was replaced by a swing-from-the-heels mentality that saw an upsurge in scoring, strikeouts, and attendance.
The Corner served as a launching pad for generations of bashers. Homeboys Hank Greenberg, Rudy York, Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Cecil Fielder feasted on the short fences, and visiting deities like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams declared the site their favorite foreign field. The Corner’s transfiguration from a pasture where fly balls went to die to a cozy home-run haven reached its zenith in 1996. That season, 230 home runs were hit at Tiger Stadium, an average of nearly three per game.
Along with quantity came quality. There were the famous All-Star home runs of Ted Williams in the 1941 classic and Reggie Jackson’s moonshot 30 Julys later, as well as dramatic postseason shots by Kirk Gibson in 1984 and Pat Sheridan in 1987. But how many fans remember that Ruth and Mickey Mantle hit the longest home runs of their careers at The Corner? Or that during an August game in 1986, Mark McGwire, then a rookie third baseman just called up by Oakland, smacked his first big-league tater at Tiger Stadium? The ball smashed into the seats with such velocity that the pitcher he victimized, Walt Terrell, wryly suggested McGwire was trying to get a head start on tearing down the old park.
On April 28, 1896, in the first inning of the first game at The Corner, Tigers leftfielder and captain George Stallings hit the first round-tripper at Michigan and Trumbull. On September 27, 1999, in the eighth inning of the final game at The Corner, Rob Fisk pounded a grand slam homer that hit the right-field roof and bounced back onto the field – a final blast that closed out over a century of long-ball memories.