Detroit Tigers: Mike Ilitch would be ashamed of the empire he built

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Mike Ilitch would be ashamed at what his beloved Detroit Tigers have become under the watchful eye of his son Chris Ilitch.

The Detroit Tigers always held a large portion of Mike Ilitch’s heart.  He loved his Detroit Red Wings, an organization he built from the ground up, but the Tigers always felt like Mr. I’s first love.

Mr. Ilitch and the game of baseball have deep roots.  Ilitch tried his hand as a minor league player in the Detroit Tigers system in 1952 the year after returning home from a four-year stint serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.

During his four-year stint playing as a minor league player, Ilitch’s four-year career came to a close after suffering a knee injury.  Mike also played in the New York Yankees and Washington Senators’ organizations after his stint with the Detroit Tigers.

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It was only fitting that the Tigers were the first organization to offer Ilitch that $3000 contact after returning home from serving his country.  The Detroit native would later be fixated on turning the city around.

Mr. I was an entrepreneur founding Little Caesars Pizza, and scratching enough money together to buy the Red Wings in 1982. It was a franchise that needed a full rebuild.  In 1983 the Detroit Red Wings ‘settled’ with drafting Steve Yzerman although they had their sights set on a local product, Pat LaFontaine.

LaFontaine was not born in Michigan but grew up in Waterford, MI, where he’d play his minor league hockey.  Things always happen for a reason; selecting Yzerman with the very next pick was the best thing that ever happened to the Detroit Red Wings.

As Ilitch and his team were building the Red Wings into a perennial power-house, the legendary owner started to have aspirations to rebuild his beloved Tigers.  So like any great entrepreneur, he invested.

Precisely ten years after purchasing the Red Wings, Mr.I bought the Detroit Tigers.  At the time, Detroit had Cecil Fielder hitting bombs but also possessed an aging Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell.

It was a ball club that was about to enter a lengthy rebuild, and Mr. I understood that he was comfortable with that after inheriting a hockey team that needed the same tender-love and care ten years prior.

The Detroit Tigers under Mike Ilitch’s ownership would endure twelve losing seasons’ over the first thirteen years before the team surprisingly marched to a World Series appearance in 2006.  The only winning record before 2006 came in 1993. Throughout the 90s, the Detroit Tigers regularly ranked near the bottom in total attendance.

Mr. I suffered through plenty of lean years when it comes to the bottom line, but he was able to keep the ship afloat, and the fans would come out in waves from 2006 until 2018, often housing three million-plus fans per season.  A far cry from the one-million throughout the 90s.

After building Comerica Park in 2000, the Detroit Tigers were able to host the 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The Ilitches were finally putting the city of Detroit back on the national map.

It was manager Jim Leyland who head-manned the Detroit Tigers through the mid-’00s.  The veteran manager reminded many fans of the legend, Sparky Anderson.  Unfortunately, Leyland came close twice but was unable to bring a title back to Detroit.

During those years, Ilitch provided General Manager (GM), Dave Dombrowski, with an open checkbook.  In 2005, the Detroit Tigers ranked as the 22nd most valuable team in baseball, yet ownership had been poised to win at all costs.

The Detroit Tigers often spent the same and, in many cases, more than the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers in total team salary.

It’s incredible to have an owner or ownership group that’s willing to win.  Some owners likely are not nearly invested in winning as long as the franchise is lining their wallets *cough* (the Ford’s).

Mike Ilitch would be ashamed of what the Detroit Tigers have become.

Since taking over as the president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., Chris Ilitch is much more of a numbers cruncher with nothing invested as a fan, especially when it comes to the Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers were poised to make a run at a World Series year after year since Chirs took over it’s been a fire sale.

The rebuilding Detroit Tigers just earned themselves the first overall pick in the MLB Draft after barely topping their 2003 win total of 43.  Last season the Tigers finished with a record of 47-114 and they were unlikely to do much better during the 2020 season.

Unlike the Detroit Red Wings, the Tigers weren’t able to get it done.  There have been murmurs about the Tigers being for sale shortly as Ilitch prioritizes his new ‘baby’ Little Caesars Arena (LCA), and that also includes the Red Wings.  That alone is enough to have Mr. I roll in his grave.  He’d never consider selling off his beloved Tigers.

Mike would be embarrassed with the lack of progress the “District Detroit” has seen under his son’s thumb.  There were a plethora of tax dollars spent to build LCA and the surrounding area, yet nothing post arena building seems to be getting developed.  If Mike were overseeing this project, things would be getting accomplished.

The Ilitches were at the center of rejuvenating downtown Detroit along with Dan Gilbert.  The Ilitches completely renovated and revamped the Fox Theatre along with relocating Ilitches Holdings that includes Olympia Entertainment and Little Caesars headquarters to downtown Detroit.

The Detroit Tigers are in the midst of a lengthy rebuild, and recent rumors state that at least eight team owners don’t want to have a season in 2020, and I can’t help but think Chris Ilitch is one of them.

With the Tigers struggling to draw any type of attendance on a regular year and being forced to play without fans in 2020, it will kill their revenue stream.  The Tigers don’t have their own television network to lean on like the New York Yankees and the YES network.

Ilitch is hoping that the league does not restart until 2021, so the organization isn’t forced to pay the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann their lucrative salaries with a limited revenue stream.

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I will say this; Mike Ilitch would be pro-play.  He’d want baseball back; he would not be one of the alleged eight owners that are hoping for no season, that is a guarantee.  He’d be embarrassed at this regime’s unwillingness to spend money along with the negotiations between owners and the players union.