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For those of us who spent much of
our lifetime at Tiger Stadium, it's hard
to believe Comerica Park is already a
decade and a half old.
Opening Day is a springtime holiday
in Michigan and 2015 featured the 15th
Tiger Home Opener at Comerica Park.
The Ilitch marketing machine has
historically attached its ticket sales
campaigns to themed slogans. With the
Red Wings it's been "I Want Stanley" or
"Hockeytown" (which they stole from
my hometown on St. Clair Shores, MICH).
With the Tigers the phrase "Who's Your
Tiger?" was replaced with "Always A Tiger."
Like "Hockeytown" the "Always A Tiger" slogan was borrowed from
DID YOU KNOW it was 1930s Tiger pitcher Elden Auker who made the
catch phrase "Always A Tiger" famous?
It wasn't Opening Day, but rather Closing Day at Tiger Stadium on
September 27, 1999 where Auker spoke those words. The Tigers had just
defeated the Kansas City Royals 8-2 before a final crowd of 43,356. In an
emotional ceremony which followed, more than 60 uniformed Tiger alumni
were introduced and, as the oldest living Tiger (just six days past his 89th
birthday), Auker was designated speaker.
Auker was a football-basketball-baseball All-American at Kansas State before
his pro baseball career. After the Tiger logo flag was lowered from the famous
centerfield flagpole to be transported to the new ballpark, Auker said to the fans
and to Tiger captain Brad Ausmus:
"Brad, take this flag to Comerica Park, your new home, and take with it the
boyhood dreams, the perseverance, and the competetive desire it takes to become
a Detroit Tiger. Never forget us, for we live on by those who carry on the Tiger
tradition and who so proudly wear the Olde English D. To wear this uniform is a
great privilege and an honor. On behalf of the old Tigers, we ask the young Tigers
of today and tomorrow to wear this uniform with pride and never on the field or off
allow your personal conduct to defile or disgrace the great tradition this uniform
represents. And always remember, Brad, once a Tiger, ALWAYS A TIGER. Thank
you and God bless all the Tigers of the past, the present and the future, and God
bless the fans who make this all possible."
In his autobiography titled "Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms" published in 2001,
Auker explained why he briefly stammered during his remarks:
"I noticed tears running down the cheeks of Ernie Harwell, the great Tigers
broadcaster who had witnessed so many legendary moments at the corner of Michigan
and Trumbull. It really flustered me when I saw that, and I had trouble finding my place
again. Harwell was so emotional, but he wasn't the only one. George Kell was crying too.
In fact, many of the players were crying."
Auker played on Detroit's first World Series Championship team in 1935. He died
on August 4, 2006 a month and a half shy of his 96th birthday and two months before
the Tigers played their first World Series game inside Comerica Park.
Auker remains in the memory of those of us who never saw him play because he's
"Always A Tiger."
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