|Friday, July 18
Updated: July 20, 12:40 PM ET
Tiger Stadium: 'I'm still alive, I'm still alive'
By Jim Caple
Four years after hosting its last game, Tiger Stadium, like so much in Detroit, sits empty and abandoned at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. In other words, it isn't much different than it was during many of the Tigers' final seasons there.
The 50,000-plus seats remain in place, waiting for someone to wipe away the dirt, plant their buns and flag down a vendor. The light bulbs are still in the towers, waiting for someone to turn them on and light up a summer's night. The plaque honoring Ty Cobb ("A genius in spikes'') still remains near the ticket office, a lasting legacy to the near century of the baseball history that took place inside the walls.
And if you listen carefully, the soul of the Tigers is still there, as well. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like Ernie Harwell.
"It's good to see an old friend,'' the ballpark greeted me the other day. "Not many come to visit anymore. Not that there's much reason. No one is allowed inside here, except for the security and maintenance crews. Some guys mow the field every once in a while but the grass is usually so high Jack Morris would salivate at the sight.''
Maybe, but the old groundball specialist isn't exactly sentimental about his former home. When I talked to him about Tiger Stadium's fate, Morris told me: "Get over it. It's old -- blow it up. You'll still have your memories, they can't take those away. Memories are forever. But a piece of dirt is just a piece of dirt. An old brick is just an old brick.''
"Well, that's Jack for you,'' Tiger Stadium said. "And maybe he's right. Maybe that's what they need to do. There was talk of turning me into a condo and shopping complex, but that's never going to happen. Tigers fans might have loved watching games at the Corner, but no one in their right mind would want this for an address.''
"The city is trying to lure a company to build a store here and if they can convince anyone, it probably means the wrecking ball for me.''
That would be awful. I said there was a recent online poll where two-thirds of those responding preferred destroying Comerica Park over Tiger Stadium.
"I appreciate the support, but that's too bad,'' Tiger Stadium said. "I don't have anything against the new stadium. She's superb. Those tiger statues all over the place? Beautiful. Those bronze statues of Tigers greats in center field? Inspiring. She's a wonderful stadium. I just wish that she could experience the passion and excitement I felt over here for so long.''
Yeah, I said. Taxpayers are always told that new stadiums bring a winning team, but it isn't true. Just like the Brewers and Pirates, the Tigers opened their new stadium with the same old lousy team. Worse, they built the wrong stadium for the team. They traded for Juan Gonzalez, but the fences were so far away that he hated the place immediately and wanted out. The Tigers lost 83 games the first year there, 96 the next and 106 last year. And this year is worse. Even after winning seven of 10, Detroit still has a .272 winning percentage and a shot to match the 1962 Mets. They've been there four years and are on their third manager.
"I heard what Sparky Anderson told the 'Detroit News' the other day,'' the stadium said. "That he knew this season was going to be bad, but he never dreamed it would be this miserable. He said that if he were manager, he doesn't think he could have withstood it. I feel sorry for Alan Trammell. He deserves better.
"And I pity the new stadium. Imagine how many times Kirk Gibson is pounding a bat against her walls in frustration.''
It's sad. The Tigers began the season by eating Damion Easley's $15 million contract. They have two pitchers on pace to lose 20 games. They have a pitcher with 19 strikeouts in 18 starts. They have two Rule V picks in the starting rotation and another in the bullpen. Their Opening Day catcher, shortstop and center fielder are back in the minors. They're barely averaging three runs per game. And attendance is lower than it was the final years at Tiger Stadium.
"Yes, and you know what's worse?'' Tiger Stadium said. "Their representative in the Futures Game was 1-10 with a 5.38 ERA.
"The problem isn't the pitching, though. The pitching actually has been pretty good, and I love this kid, Jeremy Bonderman, even if he has 13 losses. They just can't score enough. They're averaging a run less than they did in my first year in 1912 during the deadball era. Not that anyone else can score in that park. The White Sox were here last week and scored three runs the entire series.''
Maybe that's what the Tigers need to do. Turn the stadium to their advantage. Build a team based on speed, pitching and outfielders with great range. Then instead of bringing the fences in, they should push them back to deaden the bats of the visiting teams. Instead of complaining about the stadium's dimensions, they should make them even more miserable for their opponents.
"Tram talked about that the other day,'' Tiger Stadium replied. "He said they're not to the point where they can worry about something like that. He said, 'We're having trouble winning games. We haven't played well at home or the road, honestly. ... We're still trying to survive a major league season.'
"So I don't know. They're playing better, but it could be a while before they contend. And until they do, the attendance is just going to keep declining. I don't care how many carnival rides you offer, the only thing fans really want to see is a victory. And they've had more than a decade of nothing but losing. That will kill interest, even in a great baseball town like this one.''
The day was getting late and it was time to leave. Before saying good-bye, I asked Tiger Stadium what it would like to see happen.
"Obviously,'' he said, "I'd like them to think of some way to save me -- there have been too many ballparks needlessly destroyed. What would you give to be able to visit Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds? They should find a way to preserve me. But if not, well, I've lived a long, full life.
"And that's what I wish for the new stadium. I want her to have someone curse the pitchers from first base and then slide into second with spikes high in a cloud of dust, just like Cobb did here. I want her to have a second baseman hit .300 so many years in a row that's it's almost a given, like Charlie Gehringer. I want her to feel a pitcher bounce and fidget on her mound like Mark Fidrych. I want someone to slam a home run into her light tower, like Reggie Jackson. I want her to have a pair of teammates turn double plays for more than 15 years, like Trammell and Whitaker.
"And most of all, I want her to feel what it's like when a winning team captures the imagination of a troubled city and gives fans a reason to drive into downtown with anticipation, joy and pride.''
Boxscore line of the week
Minnie Minoso became the first player to appear in a professional game in seven decades Wednesday when he led off a game for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. It was the second time Minoso has done that for St. Paul (he extended his streak to six decades during the 1990s). This time he fouled a ball off, worked the count full and then walked, giving him this winning line:
0 AB, 0 R, 0 H, 0 RBI
Lies, damn lies and statistics
From left field
-- One of David Letterman's top 10 excuses used by Randall Simon to explain why he hit the Italian Sausage with a bat last week in Milwaukee's sausage race.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.