In the late evening of October 14, 1984, anybody switching the TV would have seen the same thing: a bunch of people running up and down Detroit’s streets, throwing newspaper vending machines through plate-glass windows, turning cars upside down and smashing traffic barriers through bus window. A lot of trouble.
Eventually the Riot Squad came in with teargas and water cannons and cleared everybody out, but the damage was done – blocks and blocks of the city were on fire or in ruins.
In 1984, a disturbance of this sort might have occurred in any number of American cities, for any number of reasons. It was a very grouchy year.
In fact, this particular free-for-all had flared because the Detroit Tigers had won the world series. The tumult was, in the words of countless news stories, a “celebration turned violent.”
What About the Rest of Us?
A few hours before it all started, a 13-year-old kid named Steve Thomas and his 15-year-old brother David were selling Tigers ball caps and pennants at their family’s souvenir stand, the Designated Hatter. They got the idea that something might be afoot.
A black limousine pulled out from Gate 15 of Tiger Stadium, accompanied by men in dark suits carrying sub-machine guns. It was happening fast, but young Steve figured it out: The Secret Service was getting Vice President Bush out of the city.
“Was the Secret Service overreacting?” Thomas remembered thinking in an article for detroitathletic.com. “Or did they know something we didn’t? Their mission was only to protect the Vice President. But what about the rest of us?”
“What about the rest of us?” That is a really scary, creepy question to have hanging out there in front of you.
A crowd was building outside of Tiger Stadium. There were 51,901 inside, and who knows how many tens of thousands more gathering outside. When the final out was made, and the World Series was over, thousands of fans stormed onto the field. Before long, people were leaving the ballpark with big pieces of sod on their shoulders, in their hands and on top of their heads.
Was anyone counting the cost of this behavior? Did anyone care how hard a bunch of regular guys had worked to take care of that turf throughout the 1984 season?
A Hero’s Welcome?
But if you had been around roughly 20 centuries earlier, even if you’d never recited a psalm, or paid attention to any religious writings, you’d have to figure there was something going on with that Jewish guy riding on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, receiving a hero’s welcome.
So you’d have joined in with all the people who seemed to know what was going on and chanted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven, and glory in the highest Heaven!”
But despite all the happy words, bad stuff was brewing. There were hoots and jeers mixing in with the hosannas. And in the following hours, they kept getting louder — the alleluias getting fewer and farther between.
But today Steve Thomas remembers that evening at Tiger stadium: “The Detroit Police were ringing the infield in an attempt to keep some semblance of order, but theirs was a lost cause. … Pandemonium broke out and the makings of a massive civil disturbance was in the works.”
The Thomas brothers were lucky. With hardly any time to spare, some Michigan State Police officers told them, “You’ve gotta get out of here!” Steve remembers that the police officers helped them pack up their stand, then stood guard as they drove away.
But there was no good luck, no goodwill, in store for the poor guy on the donkey centuries ago. No happy accidents. No policemen came to his aid. No secret service limo whisked Him out of harm’s way.
If only the crowd had settled down! If only there had been a way out of the crowd – someplace quiet and safe.
If only His followers hadn’t had to witness that moment of joy and triumph as it degenerated into … whatever it was.
The clouds gathered. The crowd closed in — the welcoming palms already trampled into the dirt. It had been fun, but now the Man of the Hour was on foot, looking toward the hill where all the crosses stood.
It was the only thing He could do when the mob cried out, “What about the rest of us?”