The year before, a rickety wooden structure known as Bennett Park stood in the same spot, on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
But in 1912 that vanished in place of a new concrete wonder, first called Navin Field. It was named after the Detroit Tigers principal owner, shrewd, penny-pinching old Frank Navin, a man who loved to gamble, but who would fight a player for months over a thousand-dollar raise.
Stadium financing was rather simple in those days. Navin wanted a new field, so he paid for one. After he died, the next owner finished enclosing the ballpark and renamed it Briggs Stadium after himself. Not till 1961 would it officially become Tiger Stadium.
Now, all indications are that it is about to become rubble. Ever since the Tigers played their last game there in September 1999, there have been countless schemes for redeveloping it.
I never thought any of them would become reality, for a number of reasons. The people talking about turning the ballyard into luxury condos or boutiques had everything they needed except financing.
And men with money don’t commonly invest it in that part of Detroit. One who does have money and is willing to invest it is Mike Ilitch, the current owner of both the Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, The Little Caesar’s pizza baron has poured millions into Detroit.
Besides his sports teams, he had done much to revitalize the theater district. He has clout – and I can tell you, the last thing he wants is a renovated Tiger Stadium that might compete with his Comerica Park as an entertainment venue. The city knows that, and regardless of what they say publicly, they do not want to anger Mr. Ilitch.
For the first six years after Comerica Park opened, the Tigers were a wretchedly bad baseball team. If someone had put an independent minor league club in the old park and charged eight dollars a ticket … attendance at Comerica might have swan-dived.
Now, however, things have changed. The Tigers are American League champions, and virtually every game at Comerica is sold out.
If there is anything Detroit doesn’t need, it is another vacant lot. Baseball is about history, and the place where Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle once played doesn’t deserve to disappear.
I think Ernie Harwell’s restoration project might well work, if done right, and it might well help revive the old Irish neighborhood called Corktown that surrounds the stadium. And in any event, it would be worth a try.
Just remember baseball’s two greatest maxims:
It ain’t over till it’s over, and . . . you never can tell.