The New York Times wrote about Detroit over the weekend. A story about our baseball stadium. Not our gorgeous, new, comfortable, well-lit stadium in the heart of a thriving theater district, but our old and unused stadium at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. I swear, there must be some rule at the Times that it only write about Detroit if the words “decay,””decrepit” or “destruction” appear in the headline.
Well, with the world arriving for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, may I share a few facts that elude certain myopic reporters: 1) We still play baseball here. 2) We play it in a beautiful building. 3) That Olde English D’ doesn’t stand for “dying.”
It stands for other things, like “decent,” which is how Detroiters behave even when their team is losing (try that one, Yankees fans), and “dogged,” which is what this city is – and has to be – to ward off false and lazy assumptions to which outsiders, especially media types, stubbornly cling.
We can only hope these next few days open a few eyes. The weather is hot, the city is humming, the stadium and FanFest look great – but we’ll see. I flew home from New York on Sunday and sat across from Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the baseball players association. We talked, and the subject got around to 1984, the last time Detroit hosted so many people for a baseball event. That was the World Series, which the Tigers won.
I lamented to Orza that the post-victory hysteria of that final night – and the image of an overturned police car – still haunts our perception, even 21 years later.
“I know, I was there,” Orza said. “Peter Ueberroth”- who had just come off the Los Angeles Olympics -“was with me. He’d never seen anything like it. We came outside and I said, Let’s go look. Let’s go look.’ He didn’t want to look.”
Neither did we, but we had no choice. We looked. We were embarrassed. We dealt with it.
And we moved on.
We’re still waiting for the rest of the world to follow.
Good fans, bad baseball
Instead, you keep running into people expecting something to burn in the next few days. Never mind that we’ve managed to stage the Ryder Cup and the NBA Finals in the last 10 months, and you don’t see anything smoldering, do you?
But baseball is different. Baseball and Detroit, to some people, still means 1984. Now it’s true, our franchise hasn’t done much in the last few decades to replace those memories. In fact, as a public service to our worldwide visitors, here is a brief synopsis of what the Tigers have accomplished since you last came to Motown:
In 1987, they had a shot at a title. So they traded a kid named John Smoltz for the immediate victories of pitcher Doyle Alexander. Result: no title. And no Smoltz.
From 1988 to ’95, everyone got old, even Sparky Anderson, who was old when he got here.
From 1996 to ’99, the Tigers had four straight losing seasons, two different managers and only one batter finish over .300.
In 2000, they got a new stadium.
In 2000, they signed Juan Gonzalez. We were thrilled.
In 2001, Gonzalez left. We were thrilled.
In 2003, the Tigers nearly broke the modern major-league loss mark.
Since then, they’ve improved.
That’s it. No playoffs in 18 years. During that time we’ve enjoyed three Stanley Cup championships, three NBA championships, a couple of NCAA basketball championships, a WNBA championship, a national crown in college football, and, of course, the Lions’ regular season.
And yet, baseball fans here continue to believe. We haven’t “decayed” or been “destroyed.” It may not be easy attracting star players when the Yankees and Red Sox keep throwing all that money at them.
But that doesn’t mean the only story in town is a “decrepit” stadium.
The right microscope
I remember covering the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Because few of us had been to South Korea, we pursued stories based on things we’d heard, and one thing we’d heard was that a poor section of the city was virtually isolated from any Olympic activity. On my second day there, I asked a cab driver to take me to this section, and he balked.
“Why do you want to see the worst part of the city?” he asked. “We have the Olympics. We are very proud. Why do you want to see only the ugly?”
He had a point, one that I appreciate more now having lived in Detroit all these years. Why do reporters need to write about an empty stadium? Is painting images of weeds and discarded candy wrappers (as the New York Times did) really the story of the 76th All-Star Game? Or does it fit a preconceived notion of Detroit as a symbol of urban decay? Too bad New York didn’t get the 2012 Summer Olympics. Then, during the Opening Ceremonies, a Detroit reporter could have gone to the South Bronx and written about a crack house.
Look. There’s not a major city in America that doesn’t have serious problems. If you chose to view things through that prism, you’ll see them. But your light will be distorted.
We choose something else. We choose to see this All-Star Game as a baseball pageant in a city that still loves the sport, despite two decades without a champion.
We choose to see the crowds at Cobo Center and on Woodward Avenue as proof that this city can thrive when given a chance.
We choose to see a major sporting event in a first-class stadium in a lovely section of town.
News flash for the myopic: Images of overturned police cars or abandoned buildings may be foremost in your minds, but not ours. And if you’re writing about them, you’re writing about your Detroit, but not the real one.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read recent columns by Albom, go to www.freep.com/index/albom.