Alan Trammell loved the heck out of Tiger Stadium: 'It was loud, and you felt it'

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

In the years after Tiger Stadium closed in 1999, 20 years ago Thursday, Alan Trammell often drove by the only home stadium he’d known as a major league player.

Though no longer an active major league stadium – the next season, the Detroit Tigers moved to Comerica Park, where Trammell managed his former team for three seasons – it remained special to Trammell’s heart.

As the years rolled on, Trammell noticed its decay from the outside.

Then, one day, maybe a year before the nearly century-old baseball temple was knocked down in 2008, Trammell decided to see if he could step inside one final time.

A security guard in the former Tigers’ executive offices on Michigan and Trumbull recognized him, and let Trammell spend a few minutes inside.

He walked onto the field, weeded but in pretty good shape: Tigers head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny and her crew cut the grass and maintain the field as best they could monthly. He walked into what passed for a dugout – nearly half the size of today’s dugouts. And then, Trammell decided to see if he could get back into the clubhouse.

It was probably locked, anyways, but he was going to make sure, heading down a dark tunnel, when, “Oh, man,” Trammell said. “I stepped in like two feet of water. I didn’t enjoy that part of it.”

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The rest of it – from his debut in 1977 to the Tigers’ World Series win in 1984 to the final game Sept. 27, 1999 – Trammell enjoyed the heck out of.

“I’d say the first thing that comes to mind was that was home for 20 years,” Trammell said. “And as much as it was old – and it was really, always old – but it felt to me, like baseball.”

Crowds fill the corner before the Tigers beat the Royals, 8-2, in the final game at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 27, 1999.

When Trammell was growing up in Southern California, he only knew of baseball stadiums surrounded by large parking lots: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim.

“And then I went to Tiger Stadium,” Trammell said, “And the first thing I that I said to myself is, ‘Where do they park?’ ”

Back then, Tigers players parked in a small lot lining Michigan Ave. They left their keys in the car, because on most days, the parking lot attendants needed to move them to comply with the fire code.

Then, when Mike Ilitch bought the team, the parking lot became the Tiger Plaza, and players parked behind center field.

But more than anything, what Tiger Stadium represented for Trammell was baseball.

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“You went to see baseball there,” he said. “You didn’t have all the bells and whistles, which is what, obviously, the new generation is. And hey, the new ballparks are much better – there’s no doubt about that – but again, this is my era and the era before, where you just came to watch a baseball game.”

Trammell’s era is long gone, scrapped in favor of big stadiums with seats farther away from the playing field, and other entertainment options like a carousel or ferris wheel. Stadiums these days are not built for a home-field advantage or for volume or, quite frankly, for the game.

“It rocked," Trammell said. "There’s no question about it. The ballpark, the way it was configured, it was one of the only enclosed stadiums in baseball.

“When they stomped their feet and got loud, it was loud, and you felt it. And it felt like a home-field advantage, it really did, and that’s one of the reasons why I talked about Tiger Stadium at home. Obviously, the majority of the people were rooting for us, and boy, did it get loud.”

Eric Wheeler waters the field before the Tigers faced the Royals in the final game at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 27, 1999.

The stadium, of course, had its modern day limitations. Take longtime Tigers clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel, who didn’t realize those limitations before the team moved into Comerica Park.

“At the time, you didn’t know it was a challenge,” Schmakel said. “I was looking forward to the new place, I was, but you miss the atmosphere, the people on Michigan and Trumbull, the whole thing.”

Michigan Central Station can be seen from the Towns condo units at the old Tiger Stadium, May 30, 2019.

Schmakel’s office is decidedly larger now than the Tiger Stadium closet with a chair and a locker, and the only coffee pot in the clubhouse, which occasionally was knocked over on him.

And while Comerica Park is much bigger, with no obstructed views and plenty of activities to occupy your time if the Tigers can’t, it’s the pure baseball that Trammell remembers when looking back on Tiger Stadium.

“It’s a pride and joy, to be honest,” Trammell said. “It was sad and it was home, like I mentioned, and I had some very I know some people felt differently, but I enjoyed the heck out of playing in Tiger Stadium.”

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Contact Anthony Fenech at Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.