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To Cling or not to Cling

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I came across an article today that was talking about an interesting situation: the Boston Red Sox this past week celebrated the 100th anniversary of their ballpark–a still operating, viable ballpark. Meanwhile, the article pointed out, a ballpark that opened that very day 100 years ago, Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, is gone, torn down a year or two ago, with all that remains being the playing field, a couple of benches, the flagpole, and a gate. Otherwise, there’s no indication of what once stood there and the history it represents. The article deeply lamented the loss of a building every bit as historic as Fenway Park.


I’ve been to both ballparks. Granted, this was twenty years ago, but I’m sure nothing major has changed. Fenway, frankly, looks like it’s 100 years old. The concourses are damp, dark, cramped and cavernous and completely detached from the field that lies on the other side of the seating. The park is really a lot smaller than it looks on TV. The concrete has been patched umpteen times, seats have been removed and replaced, signs have come and gone on the green monster, extra seating has been added in various unique locations over the years, but basically, it’s still the same place it’s been for those 100 years. In short, it’s a dump. And it’s no wonder Red Sox ownership has been pushing for years to build a new ballpark, in spite of its history.


Tiger Stadium, even back in ’91, was also damp, dark, cavernous, and a dump. It too was smaller than it looked on TV and in pictures, and frankly, I was a little amazed that a place so revered in baseball history had such a reputation because the sight lines were horrible. And unlike Fenway Park, it was in a lousy neighborhood, where a selling point for parking was whether the attendant was armed or not. It’s only saving grace was that it seemed like every seat in the park was amazingly close to the field.


So why should be worry about these things?


Frankly, Detroit has bigger things to worry about, like the fact that so much of the city’s population has just left or disappeared. Vast tracts of the city lie vacant, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with so much empty housing. So you can’t be surprised that the city isn’t going to put up a plaque commemorating a 100-year-old ballpark. That’s a waste of money.


But preservationists and romanticists are going to yell about how so much history happened in that building and on that very spot and that destroying that ballpark took with it a huge chunk of baseball history.


But did it really? No one who’s really a baseball fan will forget Ty Cobb, even if his former home park is gone. Or the golden voice of Ernie Harwell calling games for decades. Or the wonderful game five in 1987 when the Twins clinched the American League championship. The more important thing there is the city of Detroit, the Tigers, and their place in baseball together. As long as the two of them are still going and viable, then there’s history there. As it is, the city can’t support those memories–they’re too broke and busy to even support the here and now. In fact, the only really unique things about the ballpark are the roof over almost all of the seating, the flag pole that was in-play in center field, and the right field upper deck seats actually hanging over the field by several feet. Those weren’t worth saving.


There were proposals for how to retain and use Tiger Stadium after the Tigers left to move to Comerica Park twelve years ago. But nothing’s been viable because someone would have had to own it and pay for its maintenance and upkeep. And no one in Detroit could or would do that. It was simply impractical. So the building–a nearly 100-year-old building–was torn down. Sadly, it’s just another vacant lot on a busy street with a whole string of vacant lots.


It’s great that people want to preserve buildings and historic sites, but we all need to be pragmatic about it. I know that it’s one thing to study history and another to actually be able to touch it, but there has to be a reasonable limit to it all. Sure, in a perfect world, it would have been great if something could have been done with Tiger Stadium, but I don’t see how anything could have been done that would have preserved the field’s character or history without radically altering the structure. And by then, it’s a different building.


See you tomorrow.