Great feature on a piece of Detroit history in today’s NYT Sports section: “In Tigers’ Playoff Run, the Lindell A.C. is Missed”:
The team plays in a sparkling downtown park that was built a dozen years ago and named, to the dismay of many purists, after a bank. More than three million fans have passed through its turnstiles so far this year, and it’s a safe bet that many of them don’t remember or have managed to forget the team’s previous home, a great sooty iceberg built in 1912 just west of downtown. Tiger Stadium is gone to dust now, memories of it growing dimmer every time Cabrera whacks another ball over the outfield wall at Comerica Park.
But Detroiters tend to have a deep, quirky sense of pride, and more than a few of them will tell you that there’s a bygone relic even more worthy of mourning than Tiger Stadium. Or the downtown J. L. Hudson department store. Or Cass Tech High School, whose alumni roster includes John DeLorean, Lily Tomlin and Diana Ross.
That other place was a bar called the Lindell A.C. It was in an unexceptional-looking brick building a few blocks from Tiger Stadium, but it became a legend, a place where the famous rubbed elbows with the unknown.
It was first opened in 1949 in the no-star Lindell Hotel by Meleti Butsicaris. In the 1950s, a regular customer suggested putting signed photographs of athletes on the walls. He even showed Butsicaris and his sons, Johnny and Jimmy, how to cut a baseball bat in half lengthwise, the better to screw it into the wall. Soon other bats and baseballs, hockey sticks and pucks were added, along with the jerseys of local gods like Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Gordie Howe and Dave Bing, a Pistons star who is now the mayor of Detroit. But the maraschino cherry on the memorabilia was surely Lions linebacker Wayne Walker’s jockstrap, which was fastened to a plaque in a prominent place on the barnacled walls. The customer who came up with the original suggestion about hanging the signed photographs was a Yankees infielder named Billy Martin.
After relocating to the corner of Michigan and Cass Avenues in 1963, the Butsicaris family added “A.C.” to the name at the suggestion of a local sports columnist and repeat customer named Doc Greene — a wry swipe at the swells who patronized the nearby Detroit Athletic Club. The Lindell A.C.’s burgers were out of this world, there were three television sets, and the place was always jumping. Jimmy Butsicaris installed himself at the corner of the bar every night, where he could keep one eye on the door and one on the cash register. “He didn’t want to have any seepage,” the owner of a nearby bar says. “And he wanted to know everybody who walked in that door — cop or robber, friend or foe.” For foes, Jimmy kept a set of brass knuckles in his pocket.
Read the rest of the essay. Not surprisingly, the author is a native son of Detroit:
Bill Morris grew up in Detroit in the 1950s and ’60s. He is the author of the novels “Motor City” and “All Souls’ Day,” and has finished another, “Vic #43,” set during the 1967 Detroit riot and the Tigers’ 1968 championship season.
See also the accompanying slideshow from which the photo above (“From left, Johnny and Jimmy Butsicaris, shown in May 1979”) is pulled.
The slideshow reminds me of a photo book I picked up in a used bookstore about a dozen years (in Ithaca, ironically), which includes a set of photos from the Tigers’ 1984 World Series win.
Actually, I moved to SE MI about a dozen years ago. We talked about going to Tigers Stadium during that last season of play there. Still regret that we didn’t and hence that I never saw a game there.
(Haven’t made it to a game at Comerica either, but did sit in the bleachers there to watch a simulcast of a Stevie Wonder concert from Hart Plaza (we’d gone down to Hart Plaza initially, but the crush of Detroit humanity was too great, so we retreated up Woodward to the stadium.)
Here’s the corner of Cass & Michigan—actually downtown, not Corktown, but a close enough walk:
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