The manager scratches sometimes at the blue paint on the walls
and posts and ceiling of the home dugout. How can he not? The
paint looks soft, inviting, almost as if it had been applied to
cardboard. Or papier-mache. Or--yes--it is the final layer on
top of years and years of paint jobs. The manager gets a
fingernail in there and scratches a little bit, and flecks of
history fall into his hand.
"You see the different colors," Detroit Tigers manager Larry
Parrish says. "You have the dark blue at the top, and then you
get other shades of blue from other years, then shades of green
and then some other colors and then, well, you're at the wood.
You're back at the beginning."
The beginning was 1912.
The son occupies the same office that the father occupied. The
father, John McHale, had played with the Tigers and then worked
his way up through the front office to general manager in 1958.
The son, John McHale Jr., 50 years old, is now the team
president. He remembers going to the stadium as a child, his
family parking in a lot that is now occupied by Tiger Plaza, a
collection of fast food and beer stands. The son remembers
coming in the old club entrance, eating in the old club dining
room. He remembers that the field and the dugout were
out-of-bounds to children. He remembers this every day.
"Not much has changed in the office since my father had it," he
says. "It's the same dark paneling, the same desk. I think, but
I'm not sure, these are the same plaid curtains and venetian
blinds. I know they've been here forever."
"I saw Ty Cobb when I was a kid," 86-year-old Arthur Brooks
says. "My grandfather had a deal with the Tigers: Whenever it
snowed he would hitch up the horses and plow our lumberyard,
then he would plow all around the stadium. The Tigers gave him
four tickets to every game for that. The best player I ever saw
was Charlie Gehringer, second base. He was just smooth. He made
everything look easy. At the plate--this was before all of this
home run stuff, all these lunkheads with all their money--he was
a place hitter. Is that a term you know? Nobody does it now. He
was a place hitter. All line drives."
The lumberyard is still in business beyond rightfield: Brooks
Lumber, run by Arthur Brooks's descendants. Baseball has been
played at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull avenues since
1896, first at Bennett Park, built over the cobblestones of an
old haymarket, then at the present stadium, opened on April 20,
1912, the same week the Titanic sank. The lumberyard has been
the Tigers' neighbor almost from the beginning.
"There's a lot of Brooks lumber in that stadium," Arthur says.
"There's been a lot of changes through the years. Do you know
that the clubhouse used to have one shower for the entire team?
The place smelled so bad that pitchers didn't want to be taken
out of games because they didn't want to go to the clubhouse.
"Before management put in the extra seats--the pavilion in
rightfield--balls used to land in the lumberyard all the time. I
remember, as a boy, when those Yankees teams came to town in the
'20s. Ruth, Gehrig, all of them. I'd walk around the yard, pick
up a dozen balls in a day."
The pavilion in right field, the second deck, was added in 1936.
"My parents were divorced when I was very young," says Mark
Cunningham, a Tigers team photographer. "I lived with my mother,
and she made it a point to take me to Tiger Stadium once or
twice every season. It was a big adventure. We didn't have a
car, so we'd take a bus to the Michigan State Fairgrounds and
then the train, and then we'd still have to walk half a mile or
so from the old station. Sometimes we'd bring a couple of my
friends. They were kids whose parents had cars, but they liked
coming with my mother and me better. It was more exciting.
"The first game I ever saw, the Tigers against the Seattle
Pilots, I remember walking in here--it was a night game--and
there was just a wonderful haze over the field. Everything was
green. Denny McLain was standing in leftfield during batting
practice, hitting baseballs into the stands with a fungo bat. We
had good seats, but I remember wishing that our seats were in
the second deck in left. I couldn't think of anything better in
the world than catching one of those balls."
McLain, a righthanded pitcher, played from 1963 to 1970. He went
31-6 in 1968.
A former player--no names, please--made a sentimental visit to
Tiger Stadium a year ago. Wearing his business suit, he wandered
through the cramped and unchanged locker room, talked with the
current occupant of his old locker, then traveled through the
long tunnel toward the dugout and the playing field. As he
approached the dugout, he stopped at a small sink in the tunnel.
He unzipped his fly. "You'd always do this during a game," he
said to a local sportswriter as he whizzed into the sink. "Saved
you from going back to the clubhouse."
The modern player still walks where the long-ago player walked.
The sink is still an option. The extra bats, balls and uniforms
are still stored in the ceiling of the clubhouse, brought down by
a clubhouse attendant on a ladder every day. The manager's office
still has no bathroom. The lockers are still small and crowded
together. The footsteps and voices of the past still provide the
directions to be followed.
"I can strike out, go into the tunnel and bang on the same wall
that Ty Cobb banged on," says Tigers third baseman Dean Palmer.
"Except he didn't strike out as much as me."
"Guys will go to the batting cage under the stands, see the
concrete falling apart, and they'll make comments," says first
baseman Tony Clark. "They'll say that they heard a voice from a
ghost, that Cobb told them to do this or that. Or maybe, hah,
Clark, who is 6'7", has to walk through the dugout in a half
crouch, because if he stood he would hit his head. Everyone in
the dugout, tall or short, sits at an awkward angle to the field.
There is no way to see a ball that is hit to left, and it is hard
to see a ball hit to right. A man of average height sitting in
the dugout finds that his eyes are at the same level as the
The bullpen view is even worse. Relief pitchers sit in a pillbox
along the leftfield line. They call the pillbox the Submarine.
"You can't see much of the game," says closer Todd Jones. "It's a
weird feeling. You're of the game, but not in the game."
The field might be the newest part of the stadium. Not one blade
of grass is a descendant of the grass that was roamed by Wahoo
Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann and Hank Greenberg and Gates
Brown and Willie Horton. Not according to Heather Nabozny, the
"I don't see how it would be possible," Nabozny says. "There was
a Rod Stewart concert here a couple of years ago, and it rained,
and the field was torn apart. Everything had to be resodded."
Nabozny, 28, took over as groundskeeper this year, replacing
Frank Feneck, who worked for the team for 35 seasons. She is a
graduate of the Michigan State sports turf management program.
Her major worry in Tiger Stadium's last season is a concert by
the Three Tenors on July 17.
"I was sitting right here one night, maybe 15 years ago,"
Oakland Press sportswriter Jim Hawkins says in the workroom of
the press box. "I was typing my story. There was a big commotion
on the roof. This was when people were allowed on the roof. Some
cops were chasing a guy. Thump. Thump. All of a sudden the guy
stops, bends over and throws a big bag of dope through that
window. I just let it sit there on the floor. I wasn't touching
that dope. No, sir."
The words that have flowed from this press box have described
the exploits of most players in the American League for 87
years. They have described the work of 11 hometown Hall of
Famers, from the fierce Cobb to the hardworking catcher Mickey
Cochrane to the graceful rightfielder Al Kaline. They have
described six of the Tigers' nine World Series, the last in
1984. ("Even then the park couldn't handle all of the cameras,
all of the electricity that was needed," Hawkins says. "I can't
imagine what would happen if the Tigers were in the Series this
year.") The words have also described some troubled teams and
"Actually, this is not the original press box," says The Detroit
News columnist Joe Falls. "The old press box burned down during
the winter of '77. I remember that Jim Campbell, the general
manager, said he wished the fire had happened 'five months from
now.' He was asked why. 'Because then all of 'em [the writers]
would have been in there,' he said."
The park sits like a large, down-at-the-heels amusement ride at
its famous corner. The games continue, but there is the
overwhelming feeling that the show soon will pack up and move
along. The tiled corridors are dark and narrow. The signs on the
outfield walls, the logos changing from those of pizzas to those
of health-care plans by the inning, seem an intrusion, a last
stab at modernization that could never work. The famous sign on
one door--VISITORS CLUBHOUSE. NO VISITORS--has disappeared.
The best seats in baseball are still at Tiger Stadium, maybe
10,000 of them that put the spectator closer to the game than he
would be at any other stadium. The worst seats in baseball, too
many to count and all with obstructed views, are also at Tiger
Stadium. The front row of the upper deck in right overhangs the
field by about 10 feet, catching fly balls and turning them into
home runs. The eye can still see the transformer on the light
tower that Reggie Jackson hit with his monster home run in the
1971 All-Star Game. The ear can still hear the four-man list of
players who hit homers over the roof in left: Harmon Killebrew,
Frank Howard, Cecil Fielder and Mark McGwire. The mind can still
remember Mark (the Bird) Fidrych talking to the baseball on the
mound in 1976.
The future awaits only a mile away, where the $290-million
Comerica Park is being built. The Tigers' press guide details
the wonders to come: the chair seats and suites; the dramatic
view of the Detroit skyline; the beer garden on the third base
side and the food court on the first base side, which will
feature a carousel.
The old park simply sits there. One day closer to its fate.
"It's time," Parrish says. "You lose all of this history, but
you gain a new ballpark. You know what I think it's going to be
like? You know how you have that old reliable car that you've
driven forever, really loved, and then it breaks down, and you
have to get a new car? You know how you think you're going to
hate the new car, and then you get behind the wheel and see all
the features and say, 'Hey, wait a minute'? I think that's how
it's going to be."
He admits there is one feature at the old stadium that cannot be
replaced: the showerheads. Made before there was concern over
the environment, before worries about water conservation, the
Tiger Stadium showers are man-sized showers, torrents of water
that can't be found anywhere else. "Everybody's going around
talking about what he wants to take home after the final game--a
locker, a bat rack, something sentimental," the manager says.
"My coaches and I, we want the showerheads."
The final game is Sept. 27, a 4:05 start against the Kansas City
Royals. Tickets sold out in 33 minutes.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. Best seats in baseball Fans can be closer to the field in Detroit than at any other major league stadium.
TWO B/W PHOTOS: LYNN JOHNSON (2) Worst seats in baseball Obstructed views are all too common, and even Parrish (above) has to climb the dugout steps for a decent perspective.
FOUR B/W PHOTOS: LYNN JOHNSON (4) Final images (Clockwise from top) The bullpen staff crams into the Submarine; Nabozny, the groundskeeper, tends her field; fans look for a sign from their heroes; and Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Tigers, prepares to do another broadcast.
B/W PHOTO: LYNN JOHNSON Lots of relish More than 100 years of concession experience are served up by this genial quintet, who offer a smile with every hot dog.
B/W PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. Tunnel vision The atmospheric walk to the dugout offers Tigers catcher Brad Ausmus the same view, and relief, as long-ago players.
"The clubhouse used to have just one shower," says Brooks. "It
smelled so bad, pitchers didn't want to get sent to the showers."
"I can strike out, go into the tunnel and bang on the same wall
that Ty Cobb banged on," says third baseman Dean Palmer.