Tiger tale gone bad

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

DETROIT -- The greatest saloon singer, dead or alive, Frank Sinatra was at his melancholy best singing:

"And there used to be a ballpark

Where the field was warm and green

And the people played their crazy game

With a joy I'd never seen.

And the air was such a wonder

From the hot dogs and the beer

Yes, there used a ballpark, right here."

The question we had standing at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull yesterday was which is worse?

An empty parking lot where there used to be a ballpark?

Or an empty park standing idle, without a tenant, with weeds growing through the pavement and paint peeling?

That's the current state of disrepair at Tiger Stadium, which we always liked better than Fenway Park.

Maybe Joe Raposo, who wrote "There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here" or Sinatra had the answer. We certainly didn't.

All we had was sadness.

The city doesn't have an answer or something would be done. The final pitch was thrown by Todd Jones as he struck out Carlos Beltran at 7:07 p.m. on Sept. 27, 1999.

Since then, the Tigers moved less than two miles away to Comerica Park. There have been proposals and suggestions from developers, preservationists and outstanding citizens, but zero progress. So, the grand old dame's light standards reach to the heavens for help, and rots.

"We tried to find a developer, but couldn't get the numbers to work," said Fred Rottach, head of property for the city.

Along Michigan the deserted food court has faded signs: "A New Orleans Original" and "Pro Shope" with tattered awnings hanging. The court is part concrete, part weeds.

Birds in the upper deck chirped merrily. Another day in solitude. Rottach said no one was allowed inside.

A block further down Michigan is where Lou Gehrig went after his consecutive-game playing streak ended due to an yet diagnosed illness. We turn right at Cochrane, named after Tiger Hall of Famer. The gate is rusting.

On Cochrane, Kaline Street, named after Hall of Famer Al Kaline, dead ends into the stadium. Pale blue cinder blocks, growing paler, have been removed.

Rottach says a memorabilia company will auction seats at $250 a pop.

Plans call for the stadium to be knocked down, save for a small grandstand area and the field. Perhaps the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame will become a tenant. Condos will be built, so the hope is.

The back side of the building smells of urine. Empty beer cans lay amid broken glass.

Along Trumbull the plaque of Ty Cobb has been removed and moved to Comerica. Across the street is Hoot's, where Babe Ruth used to drink between games of a doubleheader. Hoot Robinson told us so. We wonder if Hoot has caught up with The Babe or is still around? The place is boarded. Closed.

The Tigers played 6,872 games at Michigan and Trumbull, which opened April 28, 1896 with 6,000 seats and was known as Bennett Park, then Navan Field, Briggs Stadium and finally Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers won 3,764 times, plus the 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984 World Series.

"Some say restore it, make it a historical site, others says tear it down," said Jays bench coach Ernie Whitt, whose father took him to his first Tigers game in 1959. "They have to do one or the other. They can't let it sit and rot."

Cabbie (Lucky) Jonathan Ross arrived in Detroit in 1966 and took his children to their first games there.

"I wish they'd do something, it's not a lot of fun driving by watching it crumble," Ross said.

Our first major-league game Sept. 15, 1961, a doubleheader. The next day Roger Maris hit his 57th homer.

Was Tiger Stadium depressing to look at? Yes.

Yet, neglect can't take away our memories.

Just don't play Sinatra's song.


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