Review by Gary &Mike
Detroit’s Tiger Stadium was once one of the jewels of major league baseball, famous for both its aesthetic and its history. While the grand old ballpark at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull may be gone, another historic ballpark on the north side of town still stands. Hamtramck Stadium opened for the start of the 1930 season as the new home of the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League.
After the Negro National League folded after the 1931 season, a series of Negro League teams tried their luck at Hamtramck over the next several years; the Detroit Wolves (1932), Detroit Stars (1933) and Detroit Stars again (1937), but all folded after a single season. With professional baseball gone for good, the ballpark hosted high school baseball, high school football and Little League, while it slowly began to decay.
Hamtramck Stadium originally seated about 8,000 people in its concrete-and-steel grandstand. The seating was primarily wooden benches with a few box seats separated from the rest by iron rails. The steel frame of the grandstand is the original structure. The front row is elevated six feet off the ground for a better view and is accessed via three concrete ramps. The whole of the seating area is protected from the elements by a corrugated metal roof.
The dimensions are asymmetrical; 315 to left, a cavernous 515 to center and 407 to right. A row of houses sits beyond left field, and one imagines that some sort of net might have once protected them from being targeted by right handed power hitters. At present there is no outfield fence, the corrugated metal fence having been removed. The positioning of the field, including the pitcher’s mound are all in their original locations.
The stadium and its grounds were granted historic designation by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2020, the Friends of Hamtramck Stadium restored the infield and successfully petitioned City Council to name the field Norman “Turkey” Stearnes Field at Historic Hamtramck Stadium. Stearnes played for six different Negro Leagues from 1923 to 1940 and was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. He played the majority of his career for Detroit-area teams and lived in the area for the rest of his life.
A team of dedicated volunteers keep the restored playing field in pristine condition, ready to host a new generation of ballplayers, and older generations as well, with the ballpark hosting a number of vintage baseball tournaments, played with old-time baseball rules. The field was immaculate on the sunny summer day that we visited.
In 2021, the Wayne County Commission approved an $850,000 grant to complete the funding of the $2.6 million restoration of the stadium’s grandstand, ensuring that this historic ground will not only be preserved, but serve as a piece of vibrant, living history for generations to come.
Our visit was arranged with the help of a number of people involved with creating this bright future for Hamtramck Stadium. Tom, the head groundskeeper, who arranged our visit. Dan and Kirk, volunteer groundskeepers who showed us around, and Eric, the construction manager in charge of the restoration, which was literally beginning as our visit drew to a close. All were gracious and kind and shared with us their passion for the project, the ballpark, its history, and the legacy of baseball in Detroit, both American League and Negro League. We thank everyone involved for welcoming us and allowing us to briefly step back in time.
Having brought our gloves and a baseball, we took advantage of the rare opportunity to walk briefly in the footsteps of far greater men. We each delivered a few pitches from the mound, a mound from which the great Satchel Paige once delivered his dazzling arsenal of pitches, and squatted behind the same plate where the mighty Josh Gibson once plied his trade. Although we were just two old men, two lifelong friends, flinging a baseball back and forth, it was a moving experience in ways that are hard to describe. We have loved this game all of our lives and, here, in this once forgotten little ballpark just off the main road and next to the railway tracks, our paths briefly intersected with those of some of the greatest legends this game has ever known. We are grateful, and humbled.