I had a great uncle named Harry Dorfman who had season tickets for the Detroit Tigers going back to the 1940s, so when I was a kid we were always right behind home plate. My parents tell me that I went to my first game in Tiger Stadium on the Fourth of July, 1978, but I don’t remember a thing about it. The first one I do remember was June 17, 1979 against the Angels, when I was almost six years old. Alan Trammell hit a home run and from that moment on was my hero. Between then and when we moved away in 1985 I saw scores of games at Tiger Stadium. I remain convinced that it was the best ballpark in the history of the game. The fans were close to the field, it smelled of beer and cigars, and that’s just how a ballpark should smell. While it’s not fashionable now, the fact that the field was fully enclosed made the place truly special. It made it easy to shut out the outside world and focus only on baseball. It helped you to suspend disbelief.
So if anyone should be pining for the preservation of Tiger Stadium, it should be me, right? Wrong, and I wish these people would cut it out:
A key deadline for the group trying to save Tiger Stadium has been extended.
The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy now has until Friday to submit plans and budgets to Detroit’s Economic Development Corp. for approval. The original deadline was Monday. The group wants to renovate the historic ballpark as a recreational and educational complex. The group says some plans were discussed at a meeting last week but others won’t be ready until the end of the week.
Tiger Stadium opened in 1912 and the last major-league game was played there in 1999. Most of the ballpark was demolished earlier this year. A wedge extending from dugout to dugout has been left standing while the conservancy tries to raise an estimated $15 million needed for the project.
The Conservancy has now blown through approximately 1,384 deadlines. Each time they claim to be just about there, only to fall short and thus requiring a new deadline. If it weren’t for the massive amounts of Ernie Harwell-inspired goodwill, its efforts would have long ago failed and ceased. Good for Ernie, who is a bigger hero to me than Alan Trammell ever was, but I believe that the failure of the Conservancy would have been for the best.
Part of this stems from a practical consideration, and that’s that no interpretive center or rec center of educational complex will ever do justice to the majesty that was Tiger Stadium, and no shell of a nearly 100 year-old ballpark is going to be suitable as an interpretive center, a rec center, or an educational complex. They are entirely different beasts, and no amount of Nostalgia Brand Spackle will seamlessly connect such disparate concepts together without a massive infusion of the kind of dollars that no one in their right mind will spend in Detroit. Absent those dollars and the high rent architects and designers such a project would require to pull off successfully, any project at The Corner would be a sadly half-assed affair. I remember Autoworld, baby, and it wasn’t pretty. You want to help Detroit? Look forward, not backwards for inspiration. You wanna revel in history? Go to the Henry Ford Museum.
Look, if I ran the world the Tigers would still be playing in a lovingly restored cathedral to baseball on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. That ship sailed long ago, however, and what has happened to Tiger Stadium in the past nine years has been nothing short of an atrocity. If any of the the Conservancy’s members had a loved one who was so abused, they would have called the cops. If my Uncle Harry had required the level of life support the Conservancy has demanded, we would have pulled the plug long before we did. I loved Tiger Stadium like I have loved no other building, but it’s time to lop off the final bit that remains standing and begin remembering it for what it was rather than gawk at it with pity as we speed by on I-75.
In other words, it’s time for a mercy killing.