Fifty years ago the beloved ballpark at Michigan and Trumbull received its final name change when it became officially known as Tiger Stadium.
From 1896 through 1911 the ballpark at the famous corner was called Bennett Park as a tribute to former Detroit Wolverines catcher Charlie Bennett who had lost his legs in a train accident.(Bennett threw out the first pitch on Opening Day for the Tigers from 1896 until his death in 1927.)
When the wooden ballpark was torn down after the 1911 season, Tiger owner Frank Navin built a new steel ballpark on the same site and named it Navin Field. Following Navin’s death in 1935, just six weeks after the Tigers won their first world championship, new owner Walter O. Briggs proceeded with plans to greatly expand the ballpark. When his double decked renovation was completed in 1938 he christened it Briggs Stadium in 1938.
In 1956 the Trustees for the Estate of Walter O. Briggs sold the ballclub to a group of investors lead by broadcast magnates Fred Knorr and John Fetzer. Out of respect to the Briggs family that stadium kept its name but on opening day of 1960 the Board of Directors voted to change the stadium name to Tiger Stadium.
Tiger President Bill DeWitt told reporters: “The owners of the club having been thinking about it for two or three years. We believe Tiger Stadium is a more significant name. That’s true of Yankee Stadium.”
According to author Richard Bak in his book “A Place for Summer”, the name change was to officially take place on October 2, the last day of the baseball season. But to spare the expense of the Detroit Lions from having to reprint tickets and promotional materials the change was not officially made until January 1, 1961.
Reportedly the name change cost the Tigers $20,000 as a new electric sign was erected, stationary was modified, and stadium ushers received new green oufits with “Tiger Stadium” emblazoned on their caps and jackets.
Yet despite the name change, some old time fans would still refer to the beautiful ballpark as Briggs Stadium.
Had the Tigers renovated Tiger Stadium instead of going ahead with the publicly subsidized building of Comercia Park, one wonders if the Tiger Stadium name would have been dropped in favor of a business name from the sale of naming rights.
But if that would have helped them stay at Michigan and Trumbull, hell I don’t care if they would have called it Little Caesars’ Park. Although I might have choked on my Ballpark Frank.