Monday, July 11, 2005

The "old lady sitting in the corner"

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game being played in Detroit tomorrow night, quite a bit of national sports media is streaming into town. Since it's essentially a two-day event (Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game), I'm not sure how many sportswriters will take the time to check out the city (and find something to complain about). Plus, the weather's nice and the area around Comerica Park looks pretty good, so some preconceived notions about Detroit might be dispelled. (But watch out next February when the media is here for a week during the Super Bowl.)

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, however, was in Detroit a couple of weeks ago with the Yankees, which is his regular beat for the paper. And he couldn't help but notice the contrast between the glitz and glamour surrounding the Tigers' new ballpark and the rusting, deteriorating husk of Tiger Stadium a few miles away.

"It's like the old lady sitting in the corner with nobody paying any attention to her, and the young debutante here's getting all the attention."

-- Former Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, from the New York Times

(Image via

His story in yesterday's NY Times is a pretty heartbreaking read for anyone who enjoyed a game at the Tigers' old home. Yet it's also an all-too-familiar story to Detroiters, who have seen too many formerly great buildings abandoned and left for dead, reducing so much of the city into a virtual ghost town.

Here's a quote in the story from Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter, a Kalamazoo native:

"We were saying, 'What are they going to do?' " Jeter said. "They probably should tear it down if they're going to just let it sit there and rot. Either keep it up, or tear it down and put some kind of monument there. I don't think it's fair to just let it sit there and rot."

That's the thing: What is going to happen to Tiger Stadium? Other than standing in for Yankee Stadium for the film *61 and hosting a handful of college and semi-pro baseball games a few years ago, the ballpark has been left unused. The Metro Times ran a story last March, detailing the city's stubborn refusal to let anyone maintain the stadium in hopes of future refurbishment or development. In May, Terry Foster wrote that several Corktown (Tiger Stadium's neighborhood) businessman want a new Joe Louis Arena for the Detroit Red Wings to be built on the site. Personally, I think that's a great idea.

Just do something with the site. Many sportswriters, such as Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, remember that Detroit is a great baseball town that just wants a good team to root for. But it's difficult not to question that when you see what's left on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. As Kepner writes in his article, this is only happening in Detroit. Since 1981, 17 major league teams have moved to new ballparks. And 13 of those old stadiums have been torn down. (The other three are still used for football games.) Tiger Stadium is the only one rotting away into a civic eyesore.

▪ In today's Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom responds to Kepner's piece and sticks up for Detroit. Unfortunately, it seems like Mitch misunderstood the NY Times article. Kepner was writing about Tiger Stadium, not Detroit. I'm defensive about Detroit's image too, but let's be fair. This wasn't a shot at Detroit. It was a lamentation for a piece of history.

▪ Last week's Free Press questioned how much economic benefit the All-Star Game will bring to Detroit.