The Tigers and the spirit of Detroit

They came so close, and for most Detroiters that was more than enough — and we did beat the Yankees, to the delight of all but a small section of lower New York.

Ordonez, Monroe, Casey, Polanco and the old man, Rogers. It’s a likable team. And Detroit’s new baseball stadium, though it doesn’t match the intimacy and feel of the old Tiger Stadium, has things to like about it. (It sits smack in the middle of downtown, has interesting tiger sculptures adorning the outside and, inside, has good views of the city.)

The Tigers bounced back from one of the worst slumps in baseball history — three years ago they won just 43 games. The question is, can the city of Detroit also bounce back?

Except for the crowds on game days, Detroit can be very a deserted place downtown. The loss of auto and other industrial jobs has resulted in the city losing one-half of its population over the past 50 years. Schools are losing students and closing down. And in all likelihood, the worst is yet to come. You could describe this city — known round the world for its cars, its hardworking autoworkers and their union, and its music — as a monument to the failure of capitalism.

But for 81 home games this year, the team certainly increased business for the local bars and restaurants. And I’ll admit that for the three games I attended this summer, I did my small part to boost that business.

Even without the baseball, there are gems to be found here. A friend of mine back east thinks the barbecue at Slows may be some of the best in the country. Great music venues, a world-class art museum, opera house, symphony hall and Wayne State University all do their part to keep the city alive. Downtown Detroit was “spruced up” during its hosting of the Super Bowl earlier this year, and some development is taking place. But one wonders who will be moving into the high-priced condos that several of the empty buildings are being turned into. Too many Detroiters and other Michigan residents are facing foreclosure or watching the for-sale signs on their homes go months, years, without coming down. They will not be lining up to buy condos.

Outside the new stadium a large homeless population roams the streets. When I walk by the ballpark (it’s only two blocks from my office), I can’t help but think of the salaries of the auto and other corporate executives who have made or are making their fortunes from this city. What cost would be involved to service the homeless with medical care, counseling, job training — and the jobs to go with them? Per person, it would probably be quite small, compared with those salaries!

The package for new Ford CEO Alan Mulally is reportedly worth $35 million this year, which includes his salary, one-time bonuses and the value of stock options and restricted stock awards. This price tag doesn’t include other Ford-paid benefits, including two years of temporary housing in Michigan and unlimited personal travel on a company airplane. He’s been with the company for one month and has made more than 700 auto workers do in a year.

Or take Kirk Kerkorian, the vulture-like GM board member. Doesn’t he owe something to the people of this city and state whom he’s profited from? How about Mike Ilitch, who owns the Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesar pizza chain. As the owner of the MotorCity casino, his wife Marion is a big time player in the “casinoization” of Detroit. Yes, he’s played a role in bringing development downtown, but he’s been given big tax breaks. In addition, he is sitting on a large number of empty downtown buildings and vacant lots, giving one person too much say on the city’s future.

Detroit is proud of and has rallied behind its team. While it’s good to see signs of life downtown, you have to ask: who will be benefiting from these changes? Casinos, ballparks, restaurants, bars — where will the jobs be that allow all of Detroit to be included in the party?

John Rummel (jrummel@cpusa.org) is Michigan state organizer of the Communist Party USA.