Funny how sometimes it takes a natural treasure to save one. If anyone should have a voice in what ultimately becomes of the old ballpark, it is Ernie Harwell. His quotes in John Gallagher’s article today in the Detroit Free Press were priceless and right on: “In America, we have a tendency to knock down anything that’s over 30 years old and make a parking lot out of it. Whereas in Europe they preserve all these beautiful buildings and structures that have a history. I sort of like the European approach.”
George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., on the other hand, should have chosen his words more carefully, calling Harwell’s stance a “PR gimmick.” He added: “Our decision will not be based on a public relations campaign. It’s going to be based on financial substance, period.”
Isn’t that approach part of the problem with why this historic icon continues to sit empty after all these years, overrun by weeds, rust and vermin? Sure, economics will play a role in Tiger Stadium’s ultimate fate but should not be the sole determining factor.
I had the honor and privilege in a recent year, through a mutual friend, to have lunch with Ernie Harwell. Those two hours spent at a little Italian restaurant seemed like 5 minutes. A huge fan of baseball and broadcasting, I couldn’t help myself from asking Mr. Harwell questions he has probably heard a million times such as: “Who was the greatest hitter you ever watched?” (Ted Williams). He answered each one with equal parts class and unmatched knowledge.
My point here is that we, as a society, are too quick to discount the wisdom and insights of our predecessors when they should be cherished. In the case of Tiger Stadium, it is important that we listen to Harwell and, beyond the economics, give equal consideration to history, tradition and culture. It would be a terrible thing if, someday, both Ernie Harwell and Tiger Stadium were “Long Gone.”