A year and a half ago it was first reported here that an effort was under way by a group of preservationists to have Hamtramck Stadium, once the home of Negro League baseball, designated on the National Register of Historic Places.
The ballpark, located at 3201 Dan Street, a block east of Jos. Campau Street in Veterans Memorial Park on the south side of Hamtramck, has now received that prestigious distinction.
In a statement issued in a press release Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski said:
“The City of Hamtramck is delighted to be a part of the proud history of Negro League baseball, and we look forward to a new future for our Stadium that honors this important legacy and recognizes its continued relevance to new generations. “We always knew we had a gem in this city. It’s a special pleasure to share that gem through this official recognition of its historic significance.”
The stadium is just one of five remaining ballparks that were home to Negro League baseball teams. The others are Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., Bush Stadium in Indianapolis, and Red Bird Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
Hamtramck Stadium is a brick, steel, and concrete structure built in 1930 by Detroit Stars owner John Roesink, a local businessman and promoter of semi-pro baseball after the team’s first ballpark Mack Park burned to the burned to the ground in 1929. It has been reported that when the ballpark opened in May of 1930 Ty Cobb threw out the first pitch. On June 28, 1930 before a crowd of 10,000, the first professional baseball game played under the lights in Detroit occurred when the Kansas City Monarchs brought their portable lighting system to Roesink Stadium in a contest against the Stars.
It was the home field of the Negro National League Detroit Stars from 1930-1931 and in 1933. The Stadium was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the short-lived Negro East-West League in 1932 and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937. The deciding games of the 1930 Negro National League Championship Series were played in Hamtramck, with Detroit losing in seven exciting games to the St. Louis Stars.
At least 17 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame once played in Hamtramck Stadium, including baseball immortals Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, and the Detroit Star’s greatest player, Turkey Stearnes. Dozens of other great black ballplayers also took the field at Hamtramck Stadium, including at least 43 of the top 100 Negro League & Black Baseball players of all-time (as selected by James A. Riley for Gary Gillette’s and Pete Palmer’s ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia).
The Stadium was acquired by the City of Hamtramck in 1940 and renovated in 1941 by the Wayne County Road Commission using WPA funds. Its current configuration dates to the 1970s. The grandstand has not been used since the 1990s, but remains in good shape while awaiting renovation.
The application for historic designation for Hamtramck Stadium was shepherded by a volunteer team lead by Rebecca Binno Savage, historic preservation lead at Kraemer Design Group, and a member of the Mayor’s Committee to Save Hamtramck Stadium, chaired by City Council Member Cathie Gordon. Gary Gillette, a nationally known baseball historian and a Detroit resident, sparked the effort to save the historic Stadium with his presentation to Hamtramck City Council in 2010 and to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Review Board in Lansing in January 2012.
With the historic designation, supporters of Hamtramck Stadium hope funding for the renovation of the structure and diamond will soon follow so that once again the sights and sounds of baseball will be witnessed again at this famous site.
Moreover, it will further enable historians to better tell the story and legacy of Negro League Baseball in Detroit.