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Tiger Tales
Leigh Montville
July 12, 1999
It may be showing its age, but when Tiger Stadium falls to the wrecking ball after this season, a lot of terrific memories will go with it
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July 12, 1999

Tiger Tales

It may be showing its age, but when Tiger Stadium falls to the wrecking ball after this season, a lot of terrific memories will go with it

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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-mâché. 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.

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