Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tiger Stadium

I admit it - I'm a sucker for old stadiums.

When I was very young, I used to play a game with my dad called Big League Manager. The game was similar to APBA in that each player had a card, you set the lineup, and managed your team. One year as a gift my dad bought a number of the great teams... or at least the great teams in HIS estimation as a Pirates fan so both the '27 and '60 Pirates accompanied the '27 and '60 Yankees. In order to block out my dad's sound effects that accompanied every strikeout (gee, I wonder why I'm competitive), I used to imagine the teams playing in their old ballparks. So, when I started working in Cleveland in the mid-90's, I couldn't help but pause in the hallway outside of the press box that had big pictures of old stadiums all along the walls. It was a gallery into baseball's past.

Ever since I've had the opportunity to work in this game, I've tried to make it a point to experience some of these great yards, and Tiger Stadium was one of them. I have some great memories of that stadium and only one regret. My one regret was that on my last trip in there as a member of the Oakland A's, I spent one afternoon with a disposable camera taking pictures from all over the ballpark: coming up out the concourse into the lower seating bowl right by the dugout which made you feel like you were on deck, sitting in the overhanging press box, standing in deep centerfield with the flag pole in the way, sitting in the first row of the upper deck in right field than hung out over the outfield, and even crouching in the bunker for the bullpen pitchers. The intimacy was really remarkable. My regret? I lost the stinkin' camera.

Nevertheless, I still have those memories, and they are very clear. I have other memories, too. The visiting clubhouse was about the size of a shower room in any of the new clubhouses. It was about as private as Mardi Gras. In fact, the first time I ever had to tell a player that he was going to AAA was in Tiger Stadium. I had to do it while literally sitting in the player's locker.

The runway from the clubhouse to the dugout was small and dark. Near the dugout entrance but attached to the runway wall was a porcelain trough. Again, privacy must not have been a central concern of Detroit in 1912. Our clubhouse manager in Oakland, Steve Vucinich, came around the corner, saw me paused next to the trough, and quickly said, "Babe Ruth probably p#%%ed there". That's still one of my all-time favorite lines since I've worked in this game.

I'm sad to see Tiger Stadium go, and I was there just a few times and near the end of its days. Don't get me wrong, the new ballparks are tremendous for both the fans and the players, and we're all busy creating these special moments in the new venues. That said, I'm glad I'll always have those images of Tiger Stadium in my mind.

12 comments:

Andrew Stebbins said...

This kind of story is the reason I keep coming back.

Alex said...

Unfortunately I never got to go to Tiger Stadium, but this did remind me of a nice Tiger's related childhood memory.

I remember I got to meet Darrel Evans once in Heathrow Airport as a kid and he let me hold his WS ring. He was real nice and he and my dad talked about Tiger Stadium and Evans loved talking about right field in Tiger Stadium and how many balls he hit into the aforementioned overhanging deck in RF. Was the RF deck such that it would benefit a left handed slugger (i.e. potentially boost his HR totals) or would the overhand just cause a ball that would normally be a standard HR to turn into a "upper deck" shot? Evans sure did have some nice HR years at an extended age

Melvin Nieves said...

DigitalBallparks.com has a fantastic collection of Tiger Stadium photos from lots of vantage points. I know they're not yours, but they're pretty sweet.

Paul DePodesta said...

alex,

I'm not sure of the trajectories involved, but the upper deck in RF stuck out over the warning track by about 10 feet.

Paul DePodesta said...

melvin nieves,

Thanks very much for the link - there are some great shots (though unfortunately none of the visitors clubhouse). Great screen name, by the way.

Denis Savage said...

This story hit the spot. As a huge hockey fan and having worked for an NHL team, one of my favorite things was the old stadiums and the sense of a true homefield advantage. I recall the Boston Garden - the visiting team had to walk up a flight of stairs as the crowd boomed - coming from a dressing room that was the size of a nickel. It was intimidating. Chicago Stadium had the famed organ and the visitor walkway up to the ice was so narrow two people could not stand abreast.

It was that kind of thing that made for homefield advantage. There was a feel to it that put some fear into the opposition, knowing they are coming into a rink that would be flying team colors, booming with sound and bred by the diehards.

Those kinds of advantages have long disappeared and surely some had to go. But, that feel has also disappeared in many of the newer parks. What was once an advantage has turned largely into a level playing field. The only thing that separates now is the fans and their loyalty.

Andrew said...

Thanks for sharing your memories! The Tigers really needed a new ballpark, but Vucinich's great comment hits the heart of the issue: history. Baseball had been played on that patch of land since 1896, since before the American League existed. You just can't replace that...

Blake said...

I've lived in MI all my life and made several trips to Tiger Stadium. I first attended in the late 1980s and went as often as I could before it closed. While us Tigers fans love Comerica Park it's just not the same. It's just not. Tiger Stadium just had so much history and all of that neat charm that the old ballparks just seem to have. It really is a shame that they're tearing the place down.

Chris said...

Great writeup! Thank you for sharing!

Steven said...

My dad took me to game at Cleveland Municipal stadium the last season the Tribe played there. He grew up going to games there and my grandfather used to take him into the western union box. The Tribe wasn't great that year but you could see the signs of things to come. Carlos Baerga hit I triple that day if my memory serves. They knocked that stadium down when they built the new football one. The place was kinda a dump but going there with my dad was something special. The memories I have are better than anything from a camera.

Lise said...

Ah, Tiger Stadium. Stomping your feet till the nosebleed section rocked. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych on the mound, talking to himself. Hot dogs, peanuts, vendors. A glorious place it was. Comerica, while lovely, doesn't hold the allure for me. I will miss the stadium where I had SO many great adventures. Thank you for your blog. Really brought back some fantastic memories.

Andrew said...

I grew up in the Detroit suburbs and went to my first game at Tiger Stadium for my mother's 40th birthday in August of 1990. I have many wonderful memories of games attended there as a kid and into my early teenage years, including my birthday each July if they were in town. My top four memories are probably Mickey Tettleton's game-winning HR in extra innings against the Mariners (7/28/94), Todd Van Poppel's lone career shutout (8/30/96), Bobby Higginson's 3-HR game vs. the Mets (6/30/97), and the home opener vs. the Devil Rays in 1998 (4/7/98).

I might be more than a bit biased, but I actually think Comerica Park is my least favorite of the new stadiums at which I have seen a game. It is too open of a space, and a very drab space at that. The intimacy of Tiger Stadium simply cannot be matched. In the Tettleton walk-off game mentioned above, I remember sitting immediately behind the Tigers' bullpen in leftfield and watching Gene Harris throwing in the upper 90's as he warmed up just a few feet away. As a 10-year old, that was a jaw dropping experience that simply cannot be matched by any of the new stadiums. Even other classics such as Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium do not compare to the intimacy of Tiger Stadium.

Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to pay tribute to a true classic.

P.S. Although I wasn't aware of your blog in July when you first posted this, I must give you credit for the timeliness of this post. As I no longer live in the Detroit area, I didn't heard of the initial demolition work on Tiger Stadium until several days after it had started. Even the Tigers' own official website didn't post an article about the demolition work until 10 days after the work had started. With the timing of this simple blog post, you've earned my respect.