February 10, 2017 will go down in history as one of the saddest days in the history of Detroit, the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Red Wings. Mike Ilitch, the man who loved the City and his sports teams, passed away at the age of 87.
Affectionately known by the Detroit Tigers and their fans as “Mr. I,” he will be forever remembered as the man who brought the Tigers and the Red Wings back from the depths of the sports world. Some say that Ilitch and his epic 1990’s Red Wings changed the NHL.
Mike Ilitch was one of the best owners in baseball and one of the best owners in all of professional sports. He wanted to provide the best players, facilities, and experiences for fans of his teams. This is evident from all he did for the Tigers and the Red Wings. I, for one, will miss seeing his face peeking out of his suite at Comerica Park – the house that Mr. I built.
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It is clear that Ilitch loved his teams. In the 1990s, the Detroit Red Wings were loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers: Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Brandon Shanahan, and Sergei Fedorov, just to name a few. The Red Wings teams of the 1990s were some of the best teams to ever play the game. He bought the Red Wings in 1982.
Ten years later, Ilitch bought the Detroit Tigers. Ironically, he purchased the team from another Detroit pizza millionaire: Tom Monahan who owned Domino’s Pizza. During Ilitch’s tenure as owner, the team made it to two World Series and became a valuable commodity. Ilitch did this by working with the City of Detroit to build Comerica Park and by adding notable talent to the team.
Ilitch was dedicated to having the best players on his team. Over the years, he added players like Ivan Rodriguez, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Max Scherzer. He wanted the best players and he paid them top wages, bringing the Tigers into the stratosphere of salaries by 2016. His goal was a World Series. Unfortunately, his teams got close, but they never went all the way.
His latest project was the aptly, yet controversially named Little Caesar’s Arena in the District Detroit area. This project will be the home of the Detroit Red Wings and will complete the trifecta of arenas in downtown Detroit. The arena is in walking distance from Ford Field and Comerica Park. (Hopefully, the Pistons will move to Detroit soon.)
Mike Ilitch’s passing was devasting to those who enjoy Detroit sports and have appreciated the work he has done to revitalize the city. His current and former players publicly expressed their condolences:
Heartbroken hearing of Mr I’s passing. He was a family man. A self made man. A giving man. An icon for our city and nation. #RIPMrIllitch
There is no replacement for a man like Mr. I. His love of his city and his sports teams will be felt for quite some time. With the love that he had for the Tigers, there will be no better way for them to return it other than winning the World Series in his honor. Let’s win one for Mr. I!