A legendary baseball park turned one hundred years old today. Truly one of the cathedrals of the game, it witnessed some of the sport’s greatest moments—many World Series and All-Star Games—and hosted legendary players like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig. From its earliest days, it was the city’s pride. Tiger Stadium opened 20 April 1912.
Unlike another ball park that opened the same day, however, Tiger Stadium is only a memory now. Its demise is one of the most unfortunate in the history of baseball, and, in a city that is a pale shadow of its former glory, it is surely missed. Its destruction must count as another shameful example of the short-sightedness, iconoclasm, and willful disrespect for tradition that has severely hurt baseball, and has seen too many great old parks fall victim to the wrecking ball. Consider this: after Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, the next oldest parks in Major League Baseball are Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Oakland Coliseum, and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Tropicana Field is the eighth oldest ball park in the Majors. Now, Dodger Stadium is, in my opinion, a modernist masterpiece, and I appreciate Kauffman Stadium, too, but the destruction of Comiskey Park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and Yankee Stadium ought to be considered scandalous given the banality of their replacements.
Surely, few people miss Jack Murphy Stadium, the Metrodome, or Three Rivers Stadium. And even if I personally have fond memories of Fulton County Stadium, and even if the Astrodome was a modern marvel, they had their flaws. So did Candlestick Park (which still stands) and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. In any event, Camden Yards and PNC Park are each striking in their own way. Rangers Ballpark is one of my favorite designs, and the view from the new Busch Stadium is vastly superior to the old, closed-in design that obstructed views of St. Louis’ most iconic landmark.
Of all cities, New York—where memories of Ebbets Field seem to send old Brooklyn fans into fits of reverie—should have been more appreciative of the majesty of Yankee Stadium, if not the style of Shea. Alas, greed proved more potent than pride and tradition, and the House that Ruth Built is lost. Ages hence, a white-haired Billy Crystal will look into some documentarian’s camera and lament the loss of his childhood.
What difference does it make, so long as the crowds want to come? Nostalgia is my answer. Red Sox fans who attended games at Fenway with their fathers, who attended games with their fathers, can give those same memories to their own sons. When I visited Wrigley Field in 2008, I could tell my wife how it looked exactly the same as it did when I saw it on television with my grandfather almost a quarter century before. And, though he never saw a game there in person, had he gone there as a boy it would have looked the same. That means something.
Fenway Park turned one hundred years old today, and tens of thousands of Bostonians turned out to wish her a happy birthday, with best wishes for another hundred years. Alas, Detroit lost that chance when Tiger Stadium disappeared in 2009. However appealing construction of Comerica Park may have seemed at the end of the last century, the new stadium will not live to see its one hundredth birthday; I’d bet money on it. But I wouldn’t bet my memories, and that’s what makes me and the iconoclasts different.