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Digital Subscriptions > Beckett Baseball > November 2018 > HOPE DIAMOND

HOPE DIAMOND

YEAR AFTER DEADLY RIOTS NEARLY DESTROYED DETROIT, THE TIGERS AND VENERABLE TIGER STADIUM – AFTER A PERIOD OF UNCERTAINTY – BECAME THE HEADLINERS TO REBUILDING A BROKEN CITY’S TRUST

The first sign there was something going on outside of the ballpark was a plume of black smoke that had risen beyond the left-center field roof of Tiger Stadium. Probably a structure fire nearby, or tires burning, thought Detroit Tigers leftfielder Willie Horton.

Horton was born and raised in Detroit, and had been a part of the city’s baseball scene since launching a 450-foot home run that landed on the right-center roof Briggs Stadium (later renamed Tiger Stadium) as a 16-year-old high school catcher with Detroit Northwestern – and that was years before anyone had ever heard of an aluminum bat. Detroit considered Horton its homegrown son. He had seen a lot in the city, and fires were a part of the city’s makeup.

At that point there was nothing to be overly concerned with. Or so few in the stadium thought.

As Tigers starter Mickey Lolich warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader against Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees that July 23 afternoon, only fans down the right-field line, players in both dugouts and those in the press box could actually see the smoke, although some fans later said they could smell the burning from the outset.

As fans watched the Yankees take Game 1 of the doubleheader 4-2, with Mantle going 1-for-3 with a run scored, the dark cloud of smoke continued to billow higher and further, with it stretching all the way beyond the centerfield bleachers.

Willie Horton in 1967
Residents watch as fire consumes a building on Detroit’s West Side during rioting. Inset: store owner stands guard against looters. The Soul Brother sign indicated African-American ownership.
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