June 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Tiger Stadium memorial update
At "The Corner" (Michigan and Trumbull) in Detroit, the demolition crews are busy doing their dirty deeds, and the front portion of the upper deck is now mostly gone, as is the northwest edge of what was left of the grandstand. It was a sad week indeed in Motor City. Well, at least Chrysler was saved from extinction, thanks to a judge's ruling that approved the partial buyout of the corporation by FIAT. And at least the Detroit Red Wings are giving fans something to cheer about this evening. (Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals has just begun, in Detroit.)
In recognition of the old ballpark and everything that it represented, I have made some corrections and enhancements to the diagrams on the Tiger Stadium page. After squinting long and hard at various photographs, I determined that the upper deck had 26 rows (including the lateral aisle), not 28 as I thought before. However, it appears from some demolition photos that I've seen that in at least some parts of the stadium (away from the diamond), the lower deck extended back a few rows. In other words, the very back seats may have been obstructed by two sets of support beams, like at the Polo Grounds. The 1934 version diagram has a more accurate rendition of the huge bleacher section that covered what used to be Cherry Street beyond the left field wall; hence my estimate of a center field distance of only 397 feet for 1934-1935. I realized that those bleachers extended onto the field, except for a sliver of land in the left field corner. It must have been murder for left fielders who had to chase balls hit there. [One of the biggest changes is based on a more accurate estimate of the backstop distance: In Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals, it gives a figure of 66 feet since 1955, and 54 feet before that. After looking at a variety of aerial photos, however, I put the distance at just about 60 feet, maybe a couple feet less. Making this change affected the rest of the grandstand, greatly reducing the amount of foul territory, among other things.]
The saga, in retrospect
When the history of the failure of the historical preservation movement in Detroit is written, some may ask about the lack of big-name celebrity support for the cause. Where was renowned Tigers fan Tom Selleck? What about musical stars from Michigan like Ted Nugent, Glenn Frey (of the Eagles), or Smokey Robinson? Or what about do-gooder par excellence Jeff Daniels or left-wing curmudgeon Michael Moore?? Well, I guess a "Live Aid"-style telethon for this cause might have seemed a little silly to most people.
In any event, here are the crucial events leading to the final demolition:
- April 2008: Detroit's Economic Development Corporation sets a preservation fund-raising deadline of June 1, or else demolition will begin.
- June: City extends the deadline to August 1, as Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy steps up fund-raising.
- July: Partial demolition begins, prior to deadline.
- August: Demolition proceeds rapidly.
- September: Demolition pauses, giving preservationists more time to save the one-third of the stadium that still remains.
- November: Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
- January 2009: Michigan legislature passes tax credits dedicated to the redevelopment of Tiger Stadium, worth at least $4 million.
- June: A judge grants a temporary restraining order, but preservationists fail to convince Economic Development Corporation, and the final demolition resumes.
You can also follow the tragic demolition step by step in photographs, at aerialpics.com.
Book: The Final Season
On the Tiger Stadium page, I also cited a very good book by Tom Stanton about what that stadium really meant: The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark (Thomas Dunne Books, 2001). Mr. Stanton decided to mark the final season of the stadium (1999) by attending every single Tigers home game there. He took along his father and other close family and friends as a way of bringing back childhood memories. The book chapters are interspersed with inspiring tales of hardships in the Great Depression, World War II, and Detroit's turbulent decline beginning in the 1960s. It's a lot like Tom Brokaw's tribute book The Greatest Generation, but from a baseball fan's perspective. Take a look at Amazon.com or see the author's Web site: www.tomstanton.com.
Coolest video EVER!
Some extremely clever guy strapped a video camera onto a radio-controlled airplane, and took a video of Tiger Stadium in 2006. The quality is better than you'd expect, and I actually noticed some details that helped me in getting the diagram just right.
I got Baseball Fever
Here is my second-ever posting on baseball-fever.com:
We can debate how much of a loss Tiger Stadium is to baseball posterity, or whether it was better than Comerica Park or not, but what bothers me is the sudden, surreptitious way the final phase of the demolition came about. The OTSC folks were caught off guard by the economic development folks last week, in spite of having a (semi-)solid plan on the table. Preservationists made a good-faith effort, and were "rewarded" with a sneak attack by those whose motives are not yet clear, but probably sinister. They knew they had to act quickly once that vote was cast last week before the pro-Tiger Stadium forces could rally, and the wrecking crews were on standby alert like it was a military operation. It's kind of like when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, or perhaps like when the Baltimore Colts packed their bags in the middle of the night and moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
In case you're wondering, for several weeks after signing up with Baseball Fever, I was prevented from posting any comments by their anti-spam measures, which I fully understand. Somebody contacted me to let me know that I had finally been approved, which I appreciate.