Detroit got its first major league baseball
team because of liquor and Sunday baseball. The Cincinnati Reds played homes
games on Sunday
and sold liquor
to their fans during the 1880 season despite National League rules prohibiting
both. At the end of that season, the National League revoked the Cincinnati
franchise and Detroit’s mayor secured it for his city. Thus began Detroit’s
nine-year tenure in the National League.
The Detroit Tigers baseball team played in Ban Johnson’s Western Association from 1895 through 1900. Their owner, George Vanderbeck, originally had the team play at Boulevard or League Park, a small and unsatisfactory facility at Helen and East Lafayette. He then built Bennett Park at Michigan and Trumbull for the 1896 season.
Until the 1880s, northern European Protestants numerically dominated the USA with regard to culture, political processes and the economy. There were some cities in which Catholics or Jews were quite evident and powerful. French and then Irish Catholics were always influential in Detroit and, by the late 1840s, a German-Jewish elite was powerful in Cincinnati but those places were the exception.
After 1880s, a large flow of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe arrived in the United States, Catholic and Jewish immigrants whose cultural values differed from those of the Protestant elite. Conflicts in cultural values were often played out in the political arena. There were several major issues of disagreement:
• Public Education. Catholic and Jewish
immigrants often sought to establish their own schools but there was strong
opposition from those who feared that
such schools would teach un-American values. Oregon enacted a law prohibiting
non-public school. Michigan residents, in both 1920 and 1924, voted on a
Constitutional amendment that would have prohibited non-public schools in
the state. They
voted against such a prohibition and the Supreme Court eventually ruled that
states could not force all children to attend public schools.
• Alcohol. Many of the Protestant church proscribed the use of alcohol and attributed persistent poverty to the excessive use of drink. Catholic and Jewish immigrants had cultural values accepting alcohol. The Protestants won with this cultural conflict when the 18th Amendment was enacted in 1919.
• Voting Patterns. Political machines dominate many large cities shortly after the arrival of numerous immigrants. Observers pointed out that the city bosses and ward healers retained their power by rounding up many ignorant immigrants to vote on election day. Indeed, the votes of immigrants threaten to end the political domination of a Protestant elite in many cities. A vibrant reform movement developed which had the consequence of seeking to limit in influence of immigrants. In Detroit, the present ineffective system for electing members of council replaced a geographic system of wards.
• Commercial Sex. While all faiths condemned adultery, the immigrant cultures were somewhat more tolerant of commercial sex than the Protestants who had ruled the nation. In the first two decades of this century cities and states enacted laws prohibiting the sale of sex except for a couple of counties in Nevada.
• Keeping Holy the Sabbath. The Protestant elite generally supported blue laws that kept stores including restaurants and taverns closed on Sundays and banned public recreation on that day. Jewish and Catholic immigrants certainly did not share that tradition.
By the 1880s Detroit enacted blue laws prohibiting public entertainment on Sunday. Owners of professional baseball teams knew this serious reduced their revenues. Blue collar workers in this era were generally required to work up to 9 hours per day for 6 days each week. There were no lights for evening baseball. If baseball were to prosper, Sunday afternoon games were needed. Since it was a Detroit city ordinance that prohibited recreation on Sundays, professional teams here tried to play in a nearby location that allowed Sunday baseball. Apparently the Detroit Tigers in the late 1890s shifted some of their Sunday home games to River Rogue. One of the previous minor league teams tried to play Sunday games in Hamtramck Township.
Tiger’s owner George Vanderbeck, according to Richard Back, had many disagreements with Ban Johnson who ran the Western League. For the 1901 season, Johnson decided to change the sites of his franchises and the name of his league. He shifted Midwestern franchises—Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Minneapolis—to larger east coast cities—Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington; adopted the name American League and proclaimed his circuit to be the equal of the well-established National League. Perhaps this prompted Vanderbeck to sell the team about the 1900 season to tavern keeper James D. Burns and Detroit Tigers outfielder George Stallings. Burns invested some money in improving both the playing field and the stands at Bennett Park but he knew that his revenue would boom if the team could play Sunday baseball. He hastily built a park specifically for Sunday ball on property he owned in Springwells Township just beyond the limits of Detroit where Sunday blue laws were non-existent or unenforced.
On April 28, 1901, the Detroit Tigers played their first home game in Burns Park, aka West End Park. George Stallings’ Tigers defeated Hugh Duffy’s he Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 12 to11 in front of 10,892. This was a remarkably large gathering for the time. Bennett Park probably had a seating capacity of about 6,500.
Burns and his partner, Stallings, apparently did not get along
well so, toward the end of 1901, Burns sold his share of the Tigers to Samuel
Angus, an insurance
broker. Burns, in turn, hired Frank Navin as team accountant.
The Tigers played their Sunday home games at Burns Park once again in 1902, but then stopped doing so. Richard Bak reports they drew a total of 151,350 for 34 Sunday dates in Burns Park. Sunday games at Burns Park accounted for more than one-third of the Tiger’s total ticket sales in 1901 and 1902. Bak claims that reason the Tigers stopped playing there on Sunday was the unsavory environment. Garvey’s Stockyard Hotel was located adjoining the park and did a land office business selling beer to baseball fans, so much so that the crowds were often extremely unruly. In addition, baseball administration worried about an issue that has always troubled the game—gamblers. Knowing there would be large crowds for the Sunday dates and that law enforcement was weak, gamblers flocked to the Stockyard Hotel. After the games, the players enjoyed their beer at that hotel, apparently in the company of gamblers and others of questionable reputation.
Frank Navin became the controlling owner of the Tigers in 1905 and, by 1907, he succeeded in getting the city’s council to permit Sunday baseball. Richard Bak, in his history of Briggs Stadium, mentions that the Tigers, in their early years, shifted about 50 Sunday games to other sites.; some in the Detroit suburbs but others far away. Rail transportation was frequent, highly reliable and fairly fast. When the White Sox or Browns visited Detroit for a weekend series, the teams would leave after the Saturday game and play on Sunday in Chicago or St. Louis. Apparently, the Tigers played at least one Sunday home game in Grand Rapids and shifted a couple of week-end series to Columbus, Ohio.
Sunday baseball was prohibited in Philadelphia, I believe, until the mid-1920s, and in Toronto, I think, until the early 1940s.
To be truthful, I do not know exactly where Burns Park was located. From what I read, I infer that it was close to the intersection of Waterman and Dix but I have not searched for a Sanborn map that might reveal its exact location.
Architect: Probably none
Architectural style: Apparently wooden bleacher type seating
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
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