Babe Ruth played there. As did Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio and every other baseball star who ever graced the American League.
Millions of Michiganders saw their first major league baseball game in Tiger Stadium, a place that may be home to more memories than any other spot in our state. Yet for six years, it has sat empty.
The Detroit Tigers moved on, to a new stadium filled with expensive luxury boxes and corporate suits. That sparked a lot of protest, and some die-hard Tiger Stadium purists still refuse to go to the new stadium. Financier Harry Glanz isn’t one of those. He thinks the Tigers needed to build a new ballpark, economics being what they are. But he thinks there is a lot that can be done with the old stadium, He wants to renovate it into a place where grownups can have conventions and youth leagues can come to play ball.
That makes a great deal of sense. Others have had similar ideas that have made far more sense than leaving the ballpark to crumble.
Yet the city has shown no interest. And I think I know the reason why: Mike Ilitch, who owns the Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, the Fox Theater, and the Little Caesar’s Pizza empire. I don't think Ilitch, who is first and last a businessman, wants anyone using Tiger Stadium as a place to hold any events, most of all not baseball. Not if it would compete with his new ballpark.
Comerica Park, in fact, is among the nicest of the newer baseball stadiums. But the baseball team that plays there stinks. When it comes to building a successful team, Ilitch has been a failure. The Tigers have done worse under his ownership than under any other regime in history. The last thing the Tigers want is for someone to put a plucky minor league team in Tiger Stadium, charge maybe six bucks a ticket, and lower his revenues. The city knows this, and has worked had to placate Mr. Ilitch. He made noises about leaving for the suburbs before Detroiters voted to increase their own taxes to help build his new ballpark. There is still some fear he might take his hockey team away.
So even though the city actually owns Tiger Stadium, they are reluctant to do anything with it Little Caesar wouldn’t like. In fact, until this year they were paying Ilitch $400,000 a year to “maintain” the old facility, which meant cutting the grass.
The plan, so far as I can tell, is to let the stadium deteriorate to the point where the city can justify tearing it down, leaving one more parking lot on the moonscape of Southwest Detroit.
Harry Glanz has a plan to do something exciting instead; something that would make a statement that Detroit wants to be a real city that celebrates its heritage and puts it to work for the future.
And if they build it, I think people just might come. Otherwise, there will be one less reason to bother coming, at all.