On July 20, 1929, a baby boy was born on the west side of Detroit. Little did anyone know at that time that this little man would be the author of a revival of the city he was born in.
That man was Mike Illitch, who died yesterday at age 87. A pizza titan, the Little Caesar’s Pizza owner also owned the MLB’s Detroit Tigers and the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.
Illitch purchased the Detroit Red Wings in 1982, a time in which the once great franchise struggled, having not won a cup since 1955. Illitch soon transformed the Red Wings into the gold standard of the NHL, helping draft a young man named Steve Yzerman in his first year as owner.
Doing whatever he could to bring a cup back to Hockeytown, he brought players to Detroit whose only focus was winning a cup, instead of filling their wallet. It paid off, with the core of his teams sticking around and winning 4 Stanley Cups(1997,1998,2002,2008). The Red Wings are still the last team to win back-to-back Cups.
Ten years after purchasing the Red Wings, Illitch became the owner of the Detroit Tigers, another team that was struggling. After the 2003 season in which the Tigers lost 119 games, Illitch did whatever he could once again. Bringing stars like Pudge Rodriguez to Detroit, the Tigers made their way to the Fall Classic 3 years later, a series which they were favored to win. However, they couldn’t get it done, and fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games.
6 years later, the Tigers were back in the series. With a Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera and a former Cy Young Winner Justin Verlander in the lineup, it appeared that the Tigers would finally get Mr. I his World Series ring. But, after 4 poor performances, the Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants.
Altough the Tigers never won a world series under Illitch, they got him 4 straight A.L. Central Titles and 2 American League Championships.
Mike Illitch meant a lot to the city of Detroit, and it went deeper than sports sometimes. For example, flash back to 2008. The economy is in the dump, and Michigan is going through a recession. The people of Detroit had fallen on hard times, to say the least. Not much could bring them joy. And then, the Red Wings win the 2008 Stanley Cup. And for at least one night, on June 4th, 2008, the city had joy and pride once again. The city was draped in red when the Stanley Cup Parade came around, and the people of Detroit cheered as loud as they could, despite the times.
That’s what sports means to the city, and none of it would have been possible without Mike Illitch. Coming from me, a Detroit sports fan, whose great memories as a kid came from the teams that you owned, thank you Mr. I. You brought my family and I, as well as a lot of other people, joy. It’s hard to say goodbye for me, a person who never came within 100 yards of your presence. I can’t imagine how it feels for the many people and athletes who knew you as a man, all who say that you were nothing short of an amazing individual. So I’ll close it out by saying it one more time.
Thank you for all the joy and happiness you brought to many people, Mr. I. Rest in peace.