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Detroit Tigers Stadium History

Before moving into what became Tiger Stadium, the Detroit franchise played at Recreation Park and Boulevard Park. After the 1895 season, owner of the Detroit franchise, George Vanderbeck, decided to build a ballpark at Michigan and Trumbull. His team, the Detroit Tigers of the Western League began playing at the 6,000 wooden seat ballpark on April 28, 1896. Named Bennett Park, the grandstand was in the shape of a L. A covered grandstand extended from behind third base to home and attached to a bleacher section along the first base side. Located in the outfield were trees, the Tigers clubhouse, and the groundskeepers shed.

In 1901, the Tigers became part of the American League and the wooden grandstand was repaired. By the 1908 season, the playing field was reduced as the main grandstand was extended into the field by 40 feet. A new bleacher section along the third base side was added increasing the capacity to 10,000. Bennett Park’s capacity again increased in 1911 to 18,000 when bleachers were added in right and left field. Because the stadium was built of wood, the threat of fire was great. This led to the entire ballpark being demolished after the 1911 season.

A new ballpark of steel and concrete was constructed on the same site. Homeplate was moved from right field to where it was until Tiger Stadium closed. The new ballpark was named Navin Field and the Tigers played their first game at the ballpark on April 20, 1912. It could seat 23,000 spectators as a covered grandstand extended down the first and third base lines with bleachers in right field. In centerfield was the first baseball hitters backdrop in baseball. The first major addition to Navin Field occured before the 1923 season when a second deck was added between the first and third base and a press box was added on top of the roof. This addition increased the capacity at Navin Field rose to 30,000.

The 1930s gave Tiger Stadium its look that it retained for 70 years. In 1935, Navin Field was renamed Briggs Stadium after owner Walter O. Briggs. A series of expansions began prior to the 1936 season. The single deck pavilion that extended down the first base line and around into right field was double decked. Before the addition could be built in right field, a problem had to be solved. Trumbull Avenue was located behind the right field fence therefore the grandstands could not be expanded out. To solve the problem, the right field line was shortened to 325 feet and the upper deck extended over the lower deck and over the playing field 10 feet. Construction was completed by April 1937 and Briggs Stadium could seat 36,000 fans. After the 1937 season an additional expansion was completed at Briggs Stadium. The single deck pavilion that extended down the third base line and around into left field was double decked. A gap between the double decks in right and left field was filled with two decks of bleachers with the scoreboard placed on top. With this expansion, Briggs Stadium was now enclosed and had a capacity of 54,500, making it one of baseballs largest stadiums. Dimensions were 340 ft. (left), 440 ft. (center), and 325 ft. (right).

Night baseball came to Briggs Stadium on June 15, 1948. During the same year, the press box was extended around the third deck. In 1961, Briggs Stadium was renamed Tiger Stadium when the team was bought by John Fetzer. Tiger fans became outraged in 1972 when Fetzer announced that he was going to build a new multipurpose stadium. At the polls that year, voters rejected bonds to construct a new stadium. Navin Field/Briggs Stadium/Tiger Stadium also hosted many other events other than baseball. The Detroit Lions (NFL) and other football teams played at the ballpark from 1938 to 1974. Boxing matches, concerts, and many other activities took place at the stadium. Fire broke out at Tiger Stadium in 1977 and destroyed the press box. The city of Detroit bought the stadium from the Tigers for $1 and decided to renovate Tiger Stadium. All of the original green wooden seats were replaced by new orange and blue plastic seats, a new video scoreboard replaced the old hand operated one in centerfield, and a new press box with two luxury suites were hung from the second deck. In 1993, $8 million in expansions were completed at Tiger Stadium, including building a food court called the Tiger Plaza, where the players once parked.

Detroit Tiger fans continued to enjoy going to baseball games at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull until it closed. Many fans did not mind the columns that may have been in front of their seat or other obstructed views. The overhang in right field provided many homeruns that may not have been homeruns in other ballparks and the flagpole in centerfield could cause problems for outfielders. If a Tiger fan did not sit in the bleachers in the outfield listening to Ernie Harwell on a hand held radio, they did not know what they were missing. From the green grass to the green seats and eventually the blue and orange seats, Tiger Stadium reminded fans what baseball was like in 1914. By the early 1990s the owner of the Tigers wanted a new luxurious ballpark for team. A new ballpark for the Tigers was built in downtown Detroit, and the club moved to Comerica Park after the 1999 season. The last game at Tiger Stadium was on September 27, 1999. Many fans were saddened when the last game was played at "The Corner". For over seven years, there has been talk of college or minor league baseball teams using the facility along with other sports. However, the City of Detroit does not seem interested in allowing any sporting events at the stadium. Unfortunately, in June 2006 the City of Detroit announced plans to tear down Tiger Stadium this fall and winter. In its place will be retail shops and residential housing surrounding the historic playing field, which will be preserved as a nonprofit park and ball diamond.