Tiger Stadium (Detroit)

Tiger Stadium
The Corner
Inside Tiger Stadium, Detroit.jpg
Tiger Stadium in 1998
Former names Bennett Park (1895–12)
Navin Field (1912–37)
Briggs Stadium (1938–60)
Location 2121 Trumbull Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48216
Coordinates 42°19′55″N 83°4′8″W / 42°19′55″N 83°4′8″W / 42.33194; -83.06889
Owner Detroit Tigers (1912–77)
City of Detroit (1977–2009)
Operator Detroit Tigers
Capacity 23,000 (1912)
30,000 (1923)
52,416 (1937)
Field size Left field – 340 ft (104 m)
Left-center field – 365 ft (111 m)
Center field – 440 ft (134 m)
Right-center field – 370 ft (113 m)
Right field – 325 ft (99 m)
Backstop – 66 ft (20 m)
Surface Grass
Construction
Broke ground October 1911
Opened April 20, 1912
Closed September 27, 1999
Demolished June 30, 2008 (began)
September 21, 2009 (completed)
Construction cost US$300,000
($7.45 million in 2016 dollars [1])
Architect Osborn Engineering Company
General contractor Hunkin & Conkey [2]
Tenants

Detroit Tigers ( MLB) (1912–1999)
Detroit Heralds ( OL) (1912–1919)
Detroit Heralds/Tigers ( APFA) (1920–1921)
Detroit Panthers ( NFL) (1925–1926)
Detroit Lions ( NFL) (1938–1939, 1941–1974)
Detroit Cougars ( NPSL / NASL) (1967–1968)

Tiger Stadium
NRHP reference # 88003236 [3]
Added to NRHP February 6, 1989

Tiger Stadium, previously known as Navin Field and Briggs Stadium, was a baseball park located in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan. It hosted the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball from 1912 to 1999, as well as the Detroit Lions of the National Football League from 1938 to 1974. It was declared a State of Michigan Historic Site in 1975 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989. The stadium was nicknamed "The Corner" for its location on Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Avenue.

The last Detroit Tigers game at the stadium was held in September 1999. In the decade after the Tigers vacated the stadium, several rejected redevelopment and preservation efforts finally gave way to demolition. The stadium's demolition was completed on September 21, 2009, though the stadium's actual playing field remains at the corner where the stadium once stood. Since the spring of 2010, a volunteer group known as the Navin Field Grounds Crew (composed of Tiger Stadium fans, preservationists, and Corktown residents) has restored and maintained the field.

A plan to redevelop the old Tiger Stadium site would retain the historic playing field for youth sports and ring the 10-acre property with new development has received final approval, and funding. [4]

History

Bennett Park on October 12, 1907, in a World Series game between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs, Detroit, Michigan

Origins

In 1895, Detroit Tigers owner George Vanderbeck had a new ballpark built at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull avenues. That stadium was called Bennett Park and featured a wooden grandstand with a wooden peaked roof in the outfield. At the time, some places in the outfield were only marked off with rope.

In 1911, new Tigers owner Frank Navin ordered a new steel-and-concrete baseball park on the same site that would seat 23,000 to accommodate the growing numbers of fans. Navin Field opened on April 20, 1912, the same day as the Boston Red Sox's Fenway Park. While constructed on the same site as Bennett Park, the diamond at Navin Field was rotated 90°, with home plate located in what had been left field at Bennett Park. [5] Cleveland Naps player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, later banned from baseball for life following the Black Sox Scandal, scored the first run at Navin Field on the opening day. The intimate configurations of both stadiums, both conducive to high-scoring games featuring home runs, prompted baseball writers to refer to them as "bandboxes" or "cigar boxes" (a reference to the similarly intimate Baker Bowl).

Postcard showing Briggs Stadium, circa 1930–1945

Over the years, expansion continued to accommodate more people. In 1935, following Navin's death, new owner Walter Briggs oversaw the expansion of Navin Field to a capacity of 36,000 by extending the upper deck to the foul poles and across right field. By 1938, the city had agreed to move Cherry Street, allowing left field to be double-decked and the now-renamed Briggs Stadium had a capacity of 53,000. In 1961, new owner John Fetzer took control of the stadium and gave it its final name: Tiger Stadium. Under this name, the stadium witnessed World Series titles in 1968 and 1984.

A fire gutted the press box on the evening of February 1, 1977. [6] In 1977, the Tigers sold the stadium to the city of Detroit, which then leased it back to the Tigers. As part of this transfer, the green wooden seats were replaced with blue and orange plastic ones and the stadium's interior, which was green, was painted blue to match.

In 1992, new owner Mike Ilitch began many cosmetic improvements to the ballpark, primarily with the addition of the Tiger Den and Tiger Plaza. The Tiger Den was an area in the lower deck between first and third base that had padded seats and section waiters. The Tiger Plaza was constructed in the old players parking lot and consisted of many concessionaires and a gift shop.

After the 1994 strike, plans were made to construct a new park, but many campaigned to save the old stadium. Plans to modify and maintain Tiger Stadium as the home of the Tigers, known as the Cochrane Plan, were supported by many in the community, but were never seriously considered by the Tigers. Ground was broken for the new Comerica Park during the 1997 season.

Features

A look under the famous overhang.
Tiger Stadium right field overhang, looking toward center field.

Tiger Stadium had a 125-foot (38 m) tall flagpole in fair play, to the left of dead center field near the 440 foot (134 m) mark. The same flag pole was originally to be brought to Comerica Park, but this never took place. A new flagpole in the spirit of Tiger Stadium's pole was positioned in fair play at Comerica Park until the left field fence was moved in closer prior to the 2003 season. The original Tiger Stadium flagpole, designed by Rudolph V. Herman at the request of W. O. "Spike" Briggs, is still in its original position on the now vacant site.

When the stadium closed, it was tied with Fenway Park as the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, the two parks having opened on exactly the same date in 1912. Taking predecessor Bennett Field into account, Tiger Stadium was the oldest Major League Baseball site in use in 1999.

The right field upper deck overhung the field by 10 feet (3 m), prompting the installation of spotlights above the warning track. When the park was expanded in 1936 and the second deck was added over the right field pavilion and bleachers, there was a limited amount of space between the right field fence and the street behind it. To fit as many seats as possible in the expansion, the second deck was extended over the fence by 10 feet. The overhang would occasionally "catch" some extremely high arced fly balls and prevent the right fielder standing underneath it with his back to the fence from catching the ball, resulting in a home run for the batter, in what otherwise would have been a long out. Other batted balls would occasionally hit the facing of the overhang and bounce far back into right field (still resulting in a home run).

Like other older baseball stadiums such as Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium offered "obstructed view" seats, some of which were directly behind a steel support column; while others in the lower deck had sight lines obstructed by the low-hanging upper deck. By making it possible for the upper deck to stand directly above the lower deck, the support columns allowed the average fan to sit closer to the field than at any other major league baseball park.

For a time after it was constructed, the right field upper deck had a "315" marker at the foul pole (later painted over), with a "325" marker below it on the lower deck fence (which was retained). [7] [8] The Texas Rangers claim that the design of the right field section was copied and used in the construction of Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, but in fact the upper deck does not actually extend over the right field fence, but is set back by several feet [9]

Supposedly due to then-owner Walter Briggs's dislike of night baseball, lights were not installed at the stadium until 1948. The first night game at the stadium was held on June 15, 1948. Among major league parks whose construction predated the advent of night games, only Chicago's Wrigley Field went longer without lights (1988).

Tiger Stadium featured an upper and lower deck bleacher section that was separated from the rest of the stadium. Chainlink and at one time, a barbed wire fence, separated the bleachers from the reserved sections and was the only section of seating not covered by at least part of the roof. The bleachers had their own entrance, concession stands and restrooms.

In 1999, its final season, this ballpark and Chase Field were the only ones that had a dirt path that ran from the pitcher's mound to home plate; it originally did have one between 1912 & 1938.

Professional football

Tiger Stadium was home to the Detroit Lions from 1938 to 1974 when they dropped their final Tiger Stadium game to the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving Day. The stadium hosted two NFL championship games in 1953 and 1957. The football field ran mostly in the outfield from the right field line to left center field parallel with the third base line. Since the playing surface was just barely large enough for football, the benches for both the Lions and their opponents were on the outfield side of the field. Well into the 1990s—some two decades after the Lions left—a "possession" symbol, with its light bulbs, for football games could still be seen on the auxiliary scoreboards.

In the late 1960s, the city of Pontiac and its community leaders made a presentation to the Metropolitan Stadium Committee of a 155-acre (0.63 km2) site on the city's east side at the intersection of M-59 and Interstate 75 (I-75). Initially, a dual stadium complex was planned that included a moving roof that was later scrapped due to high costs and the lack of a commitment from the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise. In 1973, ground was broken for a stadium to exclusively house the Detroit Lions. [10] The Metropolitan Stadium Committee voted unanimously for the Pontiac site.

Other events

1939 saw a major boxing fight being held at the stadium, when Joe Louis defended the world Heavyweight title with an eleventh-round knockout of Bob Pastor. [11]

On Friday, October 5, 1951, the University of Notre Dame played the University of Detroit at Briggs Stadium before a capacity crowd of 52,371. It was the first Notre Dame football game to be played at night. [12] The Fighting Irish won, 40-6. [13]

Northern Irish professional soccer club Glentoran called the stadium home for two months in 1967. The Glens, as the team from Belfast are known played under the name Detroit Cougars as one of several European teams invited to the States during their off/close season to play in the United Soccer Association.