The Home Field

One of the most iconic corners in baseball history, the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull played host to the game’s greatest players and to one of the most revered stadiums.

From April 20, 1912 through September 27, 1999, Tiger Stadium served as the home of one of baseball’s most historic franchises.

A vast parcel of green grass nestled in the industrial landscape of one of the nation’s manufacturing meccas. While the ball club is most associated with Tiger Stadium, The Corner has housed several structures that have served as the home of Detroit baseball.

Originally the site of an old hay market where local farmers brought their hay, Bennett Park was constructed and opened for business in 1896 as the home of the Detroit Tigers of the Western League.

However, before the Tigers took root at Michigan and Trumbull, professional baseball in the Motor City debuted at Recreation Park. Home to the Detroit Wolverines of the National League from 1881-1888,

Detroit’s Recreation Park.

The Wolverines won the National League pennant while playing at Recreation Park during the 1887 season. Recreation Park was also home to minor league teams in Detroit during 1889-1891 before being torn down in 1894.

The first major league baseball game in Detroit’s history was played there in 1881.

In 1896, Bennett Park was constructed on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The wooden structure held approximately 5000 patrons. The park was named after Charlie Bennett, a popular catcher with Detroit who lost both legs in a railway accident in 1894.

Bennett Park

This drawing of the first game at Bennett park appeared on the from page of the Detroit Free Press on April 29, 1896.

 Navin Field

The Bennett Park structure remained until owner Frank Navin knew an upgrade was needed. After the 1911 season, the wooden structure was replaced by a steel and concrete stadium that seated 23,000 fans. Navin Field was born on April 20, 1912. A Detroit Free Press article referred to the ballpark as a “Mammoth concrete and steel stadium.”

The ballpark was known as Navin Field until Frank Navin passed away in 1935. At that point, new Tigers owner Walter O. Briggs formulated plans to to expand the ballpark and when the renovation was completed in 1938, the new double decked structure was renamed Briggs Stadium.

1912 article in the Detroit Free Press announcing the opening of Navin Field.

 

 

Several years after the club was sold by Briggs, the stadium was renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961 by new owner John Fetzer. The corner of Michigan and Trumbull would host baseball for 103 seasons, 87 of those as Navin Field/Briggs Stadium/Tiger Stadium. On September 27, 1999 the final game was played at Tiger Stadium.

 

Robert Fick belted a grand slam in an 8-2 victory over the Royals. That final home run at Tiger Stadium brought the all time total to 11,111 homers hit in the ballpark.

Comerica Park, located on the former site of the Detroit College of Law, opened on April 11, 2000. On a frigid 34 degree afternoon, the Tigers defeated the Seattle Mariners 5-2 in the first regular season game played at the stadium.

Consisting of three levels, no seat in the entire park is obstructed, unlike Tiger Stadium. At a cost of $300 million to construct, 63% came from public funding, while private funding accounted for 37%.

 

 Notable Tiger Stadium Moments

July 13, 1934-Babe Ruth’s 700th home run

Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees made a visit to Detroit, and while the Bronx Bombers typically drew large crowds on the road, 21,000 fans packed Navin Field that day anticipating history.

Ruth was sitting on 699 home runs and his 700th would certainly prove historic. At the time only two other players had hit as many as 300 homers, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby.

In the third inning, Ruth crushed a Tommy Bridges offering over the right field fence that traveled an estimate 500 feet, perhaps more.

On the other side of the fence lurked 16-year-old Lenny Bielski, a Detroit teenager who scooped up the historic homer in a mad scramble on Plumb Street.

As Ruth rounded the bases, he yelled, “I want that ball, I want that ball.”

Babe Ruth and Lenny Bielski (Detroit Free Press)

Authorities were dispatched to locate the ball, and soon thereafter Bielski was escorted back into the stadium where Ruth offered the youngster $20 for the historic souvenir.

Bielski gladly accepted the $20 bill and a ball autographed by Ruth. In the years to come, Ruth kept in touch with Bielksi and often visited the youngster during his trips to Detroit.

October 9, 1934-Joe Medwick ejected from World Series-pelted by Tigers fans

The St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers have had their share of World Series battles over the last century. The Tigers came back from a 3-1 deficit in 1968 to beat the Cardinals in seven games. In 2006, St. Louis defeated the Tigers in five games to clinch the Fall Classic.

Yet neither series compared to the 1934 matchup in which the Cardinals Joe Medwick was ejected from Game 7 with the Cards leading 11-0. Medwick tripled in the 6th inning and on his slide into third base, he spiked the Tigers Marv Owen. Owen and Medwick tussled before eventually being separated. When Medwick went to his position in the bottom of the 6th, the Tigers faithful, already in a foul mood because of the lopsided score, let him have it. Medwick was pelted with fruit and eventually was removed from the game by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It was believed the Medwick was removed for his safety, however Landis was quoted the next day in the Detroit Free Press saying he removed Medwick for his actions.

The headline the next day read: Bleacher Fans Stage Most Tumultuous Riot Ever Seen In A World Series game.

May 2, 1939-Lou Gehrig’s steak ends

Babe Dahlgren approached Lou Gehrig late in the Yankees 22-2 drubbing of the Tigers trying to convince The Iron Horse to take over at first base. Gehrig declined. Dahlgren had started the game that day at Briggs Stadium, ending Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak at 2,130, a major league record at the time.

Earlier that day at the Book-Cadillac hotel, Gehrig, who was hitting .143, told his manager Joe McCarthy that he wanted to bench himself for the good of the team. McCarthy agreed to sit Gehrig and Dahlgren started at first base, ending Gehrig’s streak.   A streak that stood until it was surpassed by Cal Ripken in 1995.

Gehrig would never play again, succumbing to ALS which took his life just two years later in 1941.

July 13, 1971-Reggie hits the light tower

The corner of Michigan and Trumbull played host to three all star games, 1941, 1951 and 1971. In ’71, Reggie Jackson stole the show with the biggest blast in All Star game history. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Jackson belted a Dock Ellis offering off the light tower in right field. On that night, Jackson truly had light tower power. Home Run Tracker estimates that had the ball not hit the transformer, it would have traveled 539 feet.

A total of six home runs were hit in the game, but none more impressive than Jackson’s.

June 14, 1983-Gibby clears the roof

Kirk Gibson blasted a fourth-inning home run off Boston’s Mike Brown that was said to have reached the roof of Brooks Lumber located beyond the right-field wall.

Tiger Stadium Trivia

courtesy of detroithistorical.org

**Situated on the same site as old Bennett Park (1896-1911) but turned around 90 degrees.

**Sign above the visitors’ clubhouse read: “Visitors’ Clubhouse – No Visitors Allowed.”

**Right-field second deck overhangs the lower deck by 10 feet.

**Screen in right in 1944 and in 1961 required balls to be hit into the second deck to be home runs.

**125-foot-high flagpole in play in deep center, just to the left of the 440 mark – highest outfield obstacle ever in play in baseball history.

**The scoreboard on the left-field fence was originally placed at the 440 mark in dead center in 1961 but was moved when Norm Cash, Al Kaline, and Charlie Maxwell complained that it hindered the batters’ view of the pitch.

**Cobb’s Lake was an area in front of home plate that was always soaked with water by the groundskeepers to slow down Ty Cobb’s bunts.

**When slugging teams came to visit, Manager Ty Cobb had the groundskeepers put in temporary bleachers in the outfield so that long drives would be only ground-rule doubles.

**Double-decked from first to third base in winter of 1923-1924. Capacity increased in winter of 1935-36 by double-decking the right-field stands, and in the winter of 1937-1938 by double-decking both the left-field stands and the center-field bleachers.

**In the 1930s and 1940s there was a 315 marker on the second deck in right field.
**Second-to-last classic old ballpark to put in lights, in 1948 (before Wrigley Field).

**Home to the Detroit Lions (NFL) until they moved into the Silverdome in 1975.

 

Detroit’s Negro League Ballparks

Mack Park

The original home of Detroit’s Negro League team, the Detroit Stars. Mack Park was built by John Roesink who established a successful haberdashery in Detroit. Built on the southeast corner of Mack and Fairview in 1914, the park hosted games featuring semi-pro, minor league and major league teams. Major league teams often scheduled games with with minor league and semi-pro teams at the time to generate additional revenue.

When the Stars became a charter member of the Negro National League in 1920, they took residence in Mack Park for their inaugural season. The Stars played in Mack Park until July of 1929 when after days of heavy rain, Roesink ordered the grounds crew to spread gasoline on the field so that its ignition would dry the field and save the day’s game.

Not a good idea. Flames quickly spread through the ballpark igniting a rain fire that destroyed the structure.

Hamtramck Stadium
3201 Dan Street

Hamtramck Stadium. Photo WKAR Scott Pohl

Following the fire that damaged Mack Park in 1929, Roesink built Hamtramck Stadium in the fall of 1929 on land leased from the Detroit Lumber Company. It opened in May of 1930 and became the new home of the Detroit Stars. The Negro National League folded in 1931. The stars were reconstituted several times in the ensuing years with Hamtramck Stadium serving as their home.

Dequindre Park
Dequindre Street & Modern Street

Home of the Stars for the 1937 season, Detroit’s Negro League franchise played its only season as a member of the Negro American League.

 

Spring Training Home

The 2018 season marks the 82nd year that the City of Lakeland, FL has served as the winter home of the Detroit Tigers.

Joker Marchant Stadium

Joker Marchant Stadium in 2018

Since 1966, Joker Marchant Stadium has served as the spring home of the Detroit Tigers. Construction of the stadium began in September of 1965, and the stadium officially opened the following March.

The Tigers defeated the defending American League champion Minnesota Twins 4-2 in the stadium’s inaugural game on March 12, 1966. Willie Horton had two hits and scored two runs in the victory witnessed by 4,919 fans.

 

The left field berm at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Named after former Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Marcus “Joker” Marchant, the stadium became the new home of the Tigers after the club trained at historic Henley Field from 1934-1942 and 1946-1965.

 

Henley Field

 

Manager Mickey Cochrane led the Tigers in their first spring training in Lakeland at Henley Field on March 4, 1934. The squad would end up winning 101 games and featured talents such as Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Schoolby Rowe.