Hamtramck Stadium, a Trip through Time

Like I wrote earlier in the season, spring makes me think of baseball. This year I dug deep into the rich history in the southeast Michigan area, looking for places to take the kids for fun and educational purposes that involve baseball. Never one to overlook anything baseball-related I looked into the Detroit Stars, the longest tenured Negro League team in Detroit. There were three teams – the Stars, the Wolves, and the Motor City Giants – from what I have researched so far. Now I knew Mack Park was the longtime home for the Stars, what I did not know was that in July 1929, Mack Park burned to the ground. The Stars finished the season at Dequindre Park on Detroit’s East Side, then moved out to Hamtramck for the 1930 season. It is there you will find a treasure, Hamtramck Stadium, at 3201 Dan Street.

Negro League Years 1930-1960

Detroit Stars, Hamtramck Stadium

The Detroit Stars, with players like Cool Papa Bell and Turkey Stearnes, were a big draw to Hamtramck Stadium.

Hamtramck Stadium was constructed by Stars owner John Roesnik. Instead of being an old tin-and-timber structure like Mack Park was and so many other Negro League parks at the time, Roesnik, sunk an estimated $100,000 dollars into the rental of the land from the Detroit Lumber Company. This was at the beginning of the Great Depression, yet he constructed a steel-and-concrete grandstand and built a field on the spot. Many memorable moments happened in that first season of 1930. It has been reported that the first pitch was thrown out by Ty Cobb that May. The first night baseball game under lights in Detroit happened at Hamtramck Stadium on June 28, 1930 when the Kansas City Monarchs brought their portable lights to Hamtramck Stadium for the first time.

Hamtramck Stadium, Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb is said to have thrown out the first pitch at Hamtramck Stadium when it opened.

That incarnation of the Detroit Stars only played two seasons in Hamtramck Stadium before the Negro National League folded. What is regarded as one of the best ever assembled Negro League teams, the Detroit Wolves, played their lone season there in 1932, finishing atop standings posted decades later at 38-12. No championship had been awarded though because the league did not complete the season before it too folded. Later incarnations of the Stars, in 1933 and 1937, also called Hamtramck Stadium home for one season each. Other incarnations of the Stars, under different names, played here sporadically as late as 1960 before the Negro Leagues faded away.

Hamtramck Stadium in the Post-Negro League Era

Hamtramck Stadium

The original grandstands are mostly intact at Hamtramck Stadium, one of five Negro League parks still standing.

In 1940, the city of Hamtramck purchased Hamtramck Stadium and renovated it in 1941 with Wayne County Road Commission funds from the WPA. No one is quite sure what this renovation entailed but the frame of the grandstand remained original. After this renovation, Hamtramck Stadium was mainly used by church leagues and leagues from the nearby Dodge plant. Other teams also used the field were from Hamtramck High School, St. Ladislaus High School, and St. Florian High School. In 1953, Hamtramck Little League teams started to play there as well. In 1955, concession and maintenance buildings were added down the third base line, and during the 1970’s, two additional renovations were done, further reducing the grandstand size from its original 8,000 seats to 1,500.

As time passed, the Dodge plant eventually closed, and attendance at the Catholic schools dropped. Sometime during the 1990’s the grandstand was closed off, awaiting its next reincarnation and usage. It still waits, with the field still intact. The twelve-foot high corrugated steel outfield fence is long gone, but Hamtramck Stadium’s dimensions were odd: 315 ft. in left, 407 ft. in right, and a deep 515 ft. center field. The mound, the diamond, and the original flagpole are all accessible.  In 2012, Hamtramck Stadium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preserving it for all-time, thanks to the hard work of a volunteer team headed by Rebecca Binno Savage, Hamtramck City Council member Cathie Gordon, and baseball historian Gary Gilette. It is one of five Negro League stadiums still standing, the others being Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., Red Bird Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, and Bush Stadium in Indianapolis.

What is the Big Deal?

Hamtramck Stadium, Detroit Stars

Aerial view of Hamtramck Stadium, home to the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League. As you can see, the diamond still remains, waiting to be used.

Over the course of Negro League history, at  least 17 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, and the Stars’ best player, Turkey Stearnes, played here. In fact 43 of ESPN’s Top 100 Negro League & Black Baseball players of all-time set foot on Hamtramck Stadiums’ field in a game. The 1930 Negro National League Championship Series had its deciding games played here, with the Stars losing in seven games to the St. Louis Stars. Add in the fact it is one of five Negro League parks still standing, and it makes it worth the drive to Hamtramck.

Hamtramck Stadium

Hamtramck Stadium grandstand from right field. Hamtramck Stadium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

This hallowed site is rich with baseball history and ghosts of baseball’s past, much like the one up on Michigan and Trumbell. It is a place for any true baseball fan to visit, maybe even get together a sandlot game for an afternoon, if the other one is full. The grass may be taller than at Michigan and Trumbell, but it wouldn’t be a true sandlot game without tall grass. It is also walking on history, swinging a bat where Josh Gibson once hit a home run from, or pitching from the same spot Satchel Paige struck out 10 from. Some of the best to ever play baseball anywhere played here, and were not allowed to play uptown because of the color of their skin. That makes it a good reason to visit Hamtramck Stadium.

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