Friday, September 28, 2007

Where is the love? Tiger Stadium Fan Club cofounder Frank Rashid has lost it and can’t bring it back, as he tells Detroit Free Press sportswriter Michael Rosenberg. The Marygrove College English and Modern Languages Department chairman’s lifelong affection for the Grand Old Game and his hometown Detroit Tigers unraveled in 2000 when team owner Mike Ilich built Comerica Park with public funding. Indeed, Mr. Rashid has yet to set foot in the park. Readers of this website may be heartened to know a libertarian ethos, not simple sentimentality, lends impetus to his high dudgeon. “We became involved because we wanted to save Tiger Stadium. But what really got me going was when I realized the extent of the injustice. The middle class and poor people of Detroit are made to pay taxes to support one of the wealthiest people in the state of Michigan. It’s a very blatant form of corporate welfare.”

He’s not alone. To echo his sentiments and analysis, the public funding of Comerica Park didn’t merely offend my baseball sensibilities—though it certainly did all that. It was an affront to any reasoning human being’s sense of decency and fair play. To think the State of Michigan forked over tens of millions of dollars—collected, as with all taxes, under threats of great bodily harm up to and including death—to a billionaire pizza magnate (Ilich owns Little Caesar’s Pizza—or Little Greasers, as we used to call them in my college days) to build a playground for his multimillionaire ballplayers. Yet local media and civic leaders—the same deep thinkers who have made it a national pastime to inveigh against “monopolistic” Microsoft and “exploitative” Wal-Mart—sang hosannas to Ilich for picking up 50 percent (or so they assured us) of his own stadium’s $350 million construction tab. The mind boggles.

To top it all off, the State today is facing a budget crisis. It cries poverty. That $175 million of state and federal stadium subsidies sure would look good on the black side of the ledger now, wouldn’t they? Maybe in the future our selfless public servants will think twice before forging sweetheart deals with corporate welfare queens like Ilich. More likely they’ll keep pleading poverty, raising taxes and dreaming up more boondoggles—and exercising eminent domain to seize our homes and businesses if we get in the way of their grand designs.

The Tigers have enjoyed success on the field of late, making it to the World Series last year before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals. Though they’ve faltered since the All-Star break, they look like pennant contenders this year too. Mr. Rosenberg asks Mr. Rashid how it feels to turn a blind eye to the heroics of the players donning the Olde English “D” of his boyhood idols. “It was very strange,” he says, “but I felt very little interest.”

Again, I know how he feels. Where once I attended a dozen games a year, through good times and bad, I’ve set foot in Comerica Park five times in seven and half seasons. (I can assure Mr. Rashid he’s not missing anything: the place is a monstrosity.) I used to work at a downtown office building, about a mile from Tiger Stadium, and go to games on a whim. I’d throw my tie and jacket in the car after work, duck into a bar for a beer and sandwich, then proceed to the Corner. From my throne in the bleachers, with the vault of heaven as my canopy, I’d gaze down upon a veritable field of dreams—a place where Cobb snarled, where Gehrig wept, where Kaline played the right field carom. For goodness’ sake, Ruth pitched there!

This is what Ilitch has relegated to the wrecking ball. To add injury to insult, he did it at my expense, enlisting the State’s machinery of violence to extort wealth from the citizenry and transfer it to himself. You know the culture has degenerated when a Pillar of the Community embraces the moral code of mobsters.

But one does not profane the One True Sport with impunity. Paradise, as the late Bart Giamatti was fond of stating, derives from a Persian word meaning “enclosed park.” Baseball was intended to be timeless and transcendent. This is God’s game. Judgment will come to the Lords of Baseball. Walk by any city park on a summer day, and you’re as apt to see youngsters playing soccer as baseball. Soccer! These are tomorrow’s fans today. They won’t become tomorrow’s fans.

As for the Tigers, after 35 years of claiming my patronage and allegiance, they are no more. They might as well play in Tirane, Albania, for all I care. (The Tirane Tigers—it has a nice ring to it!) I now spend my summers reading, writing and inculcating moral values to my young daughter. I remind her, for example, that the Commandment reads, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” period. There’s no exception for stealing under cover of majority rule or political pull.