For the vast majority of us, the dream of being the owner of a major league baseball team will always remain just that – a dream.
But you may be able to afford to live like one in Detroit. Recently, the sale price of a mansion owned by former Tigers owner Walter O. Briggs slipped under the $500,000 mark. Briggs was the owner of the team from 1935 to 1952. During that time the club won two pennants (1940 and 1945) and a World Championship in ’45.
As reported by Curbed Detroit, the 11-bedroom home is located in the historic Boston Edison section of Detroit, which served as the back yard for many wealthy families in the city in the heyday of the auto industry. As Steve Thomas reported back in 2008, Briggs had many famous neighbors when he lived in the large home, which was dubbed Stone Hedge. The brick home was designed by the famous architectural firm Chittenden & Knotting and built in 1914. Don’t like to have to wait to take a shower? The mansion features nine bathrooms. There are also nine fireplaces, a carriage house, an elevator, and two kitchens. Just what every sports franchise owner needs.
Briggs was born in Ypsilanti in 1877 and grew up rooting for the Tigers during the Ty Cobb era. One of his favorite players was Sam Crawford. In 1908, after years of working in the early era of the automobile industry, Walter started Briggs Manufacturing, providing bodies for Ford Motor Co. and others. He achieved great success and wealth, and in 1919 he was asked by Frank Navin to purchase a 25% share in the Tigers after the death of Bill Yawkey, the previous owner of the team. Briggs remained a minority owner and on the sidelines until Navin died in November of 1935, just a month after the Tigers won their first World Series. Briggs purchased the remaining interest in the team and remained the sole owner until his death in 1952.
Under Briggs’ ownership many improvements were made to Navin Field, which was officially renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938. Briggs poured money into the park, adding thousands of seats, constructing a second deck to encircle the stadium, improving the infrastructure, and painting the exterior white. Eventually the capacity was increased to more than 58,000 and lights were added.
But where Briggs was an innovator in ballpark design and amenities, he drew criticism for being slow to integrate his team. Among major league teams, the Tigers were the second-to-last club to have a black player on their team. Not until June of 1958 – more than 11 years after Jackie Robinson had debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers – did Detroit have a black player appear in a regular season game. While Briggs was alive the team never allowed a black player on the team, and after his death his son kept that policy in place. The senior Briggs also instituted policies that kept blacks from sitting in box seats in his ballpark.
Briggs son Walter Jr. (known as “Spike”) sold the team to a group of Michigan businessmen led by media mogul John Fetzer in 1956, and by 1961 the home park was renamed Tiger Stadium. The Tigers last connection to the Briggs era was severed.
But today the once palatial home of Walter Briggs still stands in Detroit, a reminder of an era when the city was the center of industrial might in the country, when the Tigers were the toast of the town, when Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane and Hank Greenberg reigned supreme. It’s also a reminder of the disappointing post-World War II era when the ballclub suffered losing seasons and refused to embrace the changing landscape of baseball. Oh, how things have changed: the brick mansion can be yours for about $480,000.