Detroit Tigers in Pop Culture: Tiger Town
In 1983, writer/director and former Detroit native Alan Shapiro wrote and directed the movie “Tiger Town”. We review a movie that is filled with shots of Detroit in the early ’80s, Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane with special guests Sparky Anderson and Tiger Stadium.
When I was a kid, my parents or my older brother would take my younger brother and me to rent one game and one movie a weekend. Usually, we went with the second option, renting two games which at this point, were Nintendo games. On this particular weekend, in the dollar bargain rental area stood a movie I never saw before on the shelf. The movie was “Tiger Town” and as a huge fan of the Tigers I was, I never heard of it. Well, outside we did not have cable at the house, it also came out in 1984, as I was only a young lad. On the cover sleeve stood Roy Scheider, who I was only familiar with from Jaws and Seaquest 2032 at the time.
Tiger Town originally aired on The Disney Network in 1983 and it has two distinctive notes to it. It was the first movie made-for-tv movie made for the network and won a CableACE award for the best dramatic picture in 1984. If you have not seen it, I am going to give you a quick review without trying to give too many spoilers away. If you like movie reviews, check out the one Alexandra Simon did a few weeks back for “Air Bud Seventh Inning Fetch”.
Alex, who is played by Justin Henry, plays a kid who loves the Detroit Tigers. A fun fact, Henry was one of the youngest actors ever to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie “Kramer vs Kramer”. Alex and his father, who is played by Ron McLarty, have a special bond that is shown for their love of baseball right away as they watch their favorite player, Billy “the Hawk” Young, played by Scheider. Young, by the way, is playing right field and wearing number six. Alex’s dad quizzes Alex about baseball as they leave the park. They would have a lot of cool father and son moments right away in the movie.
You also get a nice home flavor of Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane on the call when the movie opens up. Lane and Harwell were the voices on WJR during the 1968 season so older fans may remember. At the time, Lane was the anchor on Channel 50 and doing the pre-games for the Red Wings so finding that out later was a cool piece of history. Also, Tiger Stadium just looks amazing in that 1980’s glow and Sparky Anderson makes his second appearance as an actor (WKRP in Cincinnati)
During the first twenty minutes, some serious Michigan landmarks make their appearance so for anyone who had a family member work in the auto industry or remember Jefferson Avenue during this period of time, it will come clear quick what you are seeing. Outside of “Beverly Hills Cop” at that time, I never saw anything shot in Detroit on film. Sharpio’s attention to detail is clear here right away and as a Detroit native, I really like the city and the surrounding areas shown here.
The movie takes a dark turn when Alex’s father suddenly passes away. One of the last things his father tells him is to always believe. The Tigers were in last place and Young was struggling. Alex goes to a home game after the funeral. Detroit is trailing and Young comes to bat. By closing his eyes and folding his hands, Alex wishes Young to hit a home run. Sure enough, he does and the Tigers win the game.
The rest of the movie you will have to dig around to find online as it is not available on Disney Plus as of yet. Shapiro did a great job explaining the behind the scenes aspects with writer Adam Graham in a recent article in the Detroit News in late 2019. Shapiro captured the warmth and love that Alex had for both his parents and how much superstitions play into baseball. Alex’s journey as a fan is 100% relatable, even 37 years later.
As someone who recently lost his father, I must admit, I shed a few tears as I watched them walk out of Tiger Stadium. It reminded me of my first game with my father and the many games we went to afterward. The traditions we set before and after the game are always one I will treasure. Go check out ‘Tiger Town’ and wrap yourself in a nostalgia blanket.