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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Detroit Says Goodbye To Landmark -- Tiger Stadium, Detroit's 87- Year-Old Baseball Park, Was Honored Yesterday As The Tigers Played Their Final Game There.

The Washington Post

DETROIT - Now, only two baseball shrines remain, Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field.

The last game was played at Tiger Stadium late yesterday afternoon, with Detroit beating Kansas City 8-2 in a meaningless contest in the standings. The meaning was in the message of plate umpire Rocky Roe's raised fist signaling strike 3 and the final out because it meant the end of baseball in a park nearly a century old.

Baseball fans have been given no choice except to move on, preferably with optimism, while locking into memory - as the gates were locked behind them - everything they could about one of their best-loved fields.

The game's glories have been celebrated at this downtown diamond palace since it opened April 20, 1912, the same day as Fenway and three years before Wrigley. Tiger Stadium was home to Ty Cobb and Al Kaline. Think of Cobb and you think of a hard-sliding base runner with spikes flying high. Think of Kaline and you think of the other extreme that baseball brilliance allows - the elegance of a gliding outfielder, the sweet-smooth swing of a line-drive hitter and manners that encouraged affection.

Then there was Hank Greenberg - remarkable for his right-handed power hitting, including his pennant-winning grand slam of 1945, and more. He secured a place in American culture as one who put his religion first, who enlisted in the Army Air Corps immediately after Pearl Harbor despite having been discharged shortly before as overage, who quietly encouraged Jackie Robinson in his breakthrough season of 1947.

Ted Williams skipped joyfully around the bases at Tiger Stadium after winning the 1941 All-Star Game with a ninth-inning home run. Mickey Mantle hit a ball over the right-field roof that soared an estimated 643 feet, and Cecil Fielder hit one over the left-field roof. Sparks flew when Reggie Jackson hit the light tower on the right-field roof during the 1971 All-Star Game.

Lou Gehrig ended his iron-man streak here May 2, 1939. The date took on lasting sadness when Gehrig and the world learned that he had been stopped because he was fatally ill.

One last time yesterday, people crowded inside the square of double-decked seats with its main entrance on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. They filled the narrow concourses of yellow tile, peeling paint and exposed wires and pipes so that hardly anyone could move - the better, perhaps, for all to fix the place in their minds. A man took a picture of the humanity and the few adornments, such as they were: a trash can in a corner, a sign pointing to the "Tiger Den."

With the seats filling to their capacity of 48,000, longtime radio announcer Ernie Harwell introduced Kaline, who told the crowd "it was time to move on," meaning a mile away for the start of next season in new Comerica Park. "The future will be filled with memories of our old home," he said.

Baseball had been played on this street corner since 1896, when a place called Bennett Park opened, making "The Corner" the oldest home to baseball. The current park was born as Navin Field and was expanded three times - the last in 1938, when it was renamed Briggs Stadium. For every game ever since, steel beams could give thousands of fans on both decks an obstructed view of the game. Not a seat of any worth could be bought or begged yesterday.

The current Tigers honored Tiger Hall of Famers by wearing their numbers, leaving center fielder Gabe Kapler with no number on his back in tribute to Cobb, who played before numbers were worn. And the last cry of "Play ball!" went to Roe.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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