Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch died at age 87.
In 1982, the Little Caesers founder bought the Red Wings for a reported $8 million. Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 1998, ’98, 2002 and ’08. Ilitch was inducted into the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
In 1992, he bought the Tigers for $85 million. Detroit advanced to the 2006 World Series but lost to the Cardinals in five games.
“I’m not afraid to go out and spend money,” Ilitch said. “It’s been very costly, but I’m not going to change my ways.”
Here’s Mitch Albom’s take on Ilitch:
The Detroit News’ Nolan Finley credits Ilitch with revitalizing Detroit:
The Detroit on which Mike Ilitch staked his company’s and personal reputations in 1989 was at its historic low-water mark. … Detroit is no joke now. People from all over the world want to come here. To work. To live. To invest. Mike Ilitch started all that. Fans balked when the decision was made to name the new sports complex Little Caesars Arena. The Ilitch family paid for it. They can choose the handle. But I’d suggest it be called the Mike Ilitch Arena. What he did for Detroit should never be forgotten.
Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown said Ilitch, a native Detroiter, was part of the city’s fabric:
Ilitch and the city of Detroit were like an aging married couple. You couldn’t ever be sure which was holding up the other, (but they were) good together.
Many credit Ilitch with spending big money even when he didn’t have to.
Ilitch was willing to spend big money to make the team better, and — surprise! — that led to a better team. As Kurt Mensching pointed out at Bless You Boys, from 2006 on, the (Tigers were) in a golden era. Since then, Detroit has made the playoffs five times, reaching the Division Series once, the Championship Series twice, and the World Series twice. No, he never made it to the very top with the Tigers, but his legacy shouldn’t be defined by the only thing he didn’t do.
In an age where so many owners are scrutinized and, in some cases reviled (see: Dolan, James) Ilitch … was one owner who seemed to transcend this sort of sniping. Instead, he earned his reputation as a benevolent patriarch who was not shy about spending to field a superior product, both on the ice and on the diamond.
The difference between Ilitch and other owners was simple: They all “wanted” to win. Ilitch “had” to win. His financial bottom line was really good — he was a billionaire — but he could have made much more money in sports, but he was never willing to stop short of paying what it takes to win. In that regard, Ilitch never cheated the fans in his native town of their best chance possible.
What do you think? Was Ilitch one of the top-five current owners in sports before he died?