Motown’s sport venues sold out
After moving to the Detroit area to seek employment many years ago, I decided to make a point of going to every professional sports venue in the city.
That meant making trips to Tiger Stadium to see the Tigers and Lions play; to Olympia Stadium to see the Red Wings in action; and to Cobo Hall where the Pistons usually toiled.
Back in the 1960s, all those places had their own high points – and perils.
The Olympia, in particular, was located in a seedy part of the town. You were in danger not only at night but also in the daytime in that neighborhood.
Still, I and a friend ventured out to see the Red Wings battle the Boston Bruins on a cold, wintry evening.
Superstar Gordie Howe, was of course, the big attraction. But Norm Ullman was the leading scorer that season for the Wings and scored twice in a 4-2 victory. Roger Crozier, who played all but 32 minutes in goal that season for Detroit, was solid in the nets.
Cobo Arena (now Cobo Center) was relatively new back then and the seating was good. The Pistons were a second division team but they knocked off the Cincinnati Royals behind Ray Scott’s 39 points.
But the player who impressed me the most was Oscar Robertson, a smooth do-it-all guard for the Royals. The “Big O” averaged a triple-double in the 1961-62 season, the only one ever to accomplish that amazing feat.
Going to Tiger Stadium was a homecoming of sorts for me. I had attended a few games with my father previously, and was always awe-struck by the rustic park on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenue.
I had the opportunity to see the Lions, a 7-5-2 team that season, roll over the Los Angles Rams by a 37-17 score. Milt Plum, an infamous name for most Lions fans, had a good day passing and fullback Nick Pietrosante did the running.
Tiger Stadium was never suited for football (too many poor seats) and would be replaced by the Pontiac Silverdome within a decade.
But it was a great place for baseball because of its rich history. After all, the immortal Ty Cobb had played there and so did Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer.
On a warm night in late May, I grabbed the Michigan Avenue bus and rode some 50 blocks to the park. It was wise to leave your car far from the crime-ridden neighborhood where the park was located.
Denny McLain – a young and brash pitcher for the Tigers – shut down the New York Yankees that evening and Norm Cash socked a homer.
McLain’s talent was undeniable … he was just three seasons away from a record-breaking 31-win season. But he was the classic example of a million dollar arm, ten-cent head.
Unfortunately, all the above venues have disappeared. Even the Silverdome lies in near ruins today.
Granted, the Olympia eventually just crumbled away. Joe Louis Arena, also soon to be replaced, has been the Wings’ home for decades.
The Pistons used the Silverdome for a few years before going to The Palace of Auburn Hills.
But Tiger Stadium, which many fans felt should have been renovated like historic Fenway Park or Wrigley Field,
was sold down the river. Blame greedy owners and crooked politicians for the demise of the park.
Comerica Park replaced the stadium, while Ford Field now serves as home of the Lions.
These new stadiums are glitzy facilities with all the amenities, but they don’t possess the atmosphere (call it an aura) of Tiger Stadium.
And I doubt they will leave too many memories for present day fans.