Rest in peace, Mike Ilitch
Three Lanthorn staff writers weigh in on the legacy of a Detroit legend
GVL / Courtesy - AP photo, Carlos Osorio Mike Ilitch
Editor’s note: Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tiger and Little Caesers Pizza owner Mike Ilitch passed away Friday, Feb. 10 at the age of 87. Three Lanthorn sports staff writers weigh in on his impact to the city of Detroit and the lives of Michigan sports fans everywhere.
The date is Saturday, October 14, 2006. The Detroit Tigers are in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and are one run away from going to the World Series just three years after almost breaking the MLB record for worst regular season record. Walking up to bat arises Detroit right fielder Magglio Ordonez, one of the many valuable assets added to the team after that dreadful 2003 season. And for the first time in my young life, I finally had a reason to be excited about the Tigers, besides my father sharing stories on how amazing the 1984 “Bless You Boys” world champion team was.
Huston Street winds up and throws a pitch a little too inside, as Magglio delivers with one of the prettiest swings we have ever seen. You could’ve had your eyes closed and the crack of the bat alone made it instantly known that Detroit had finally made its return to the World Series. I can still close my eyes and see second baseman Placido Polanco jumping up and down around the bases and arms held high.
But this hit was much more than just a trip to the World Series. It was a culmination of being tired of mediocrity and delivering something meaningful to the incredibly loyal fans of Detroit for once. And the man who delivered this promise? Mr. Mike Ilitch, a man of the people. He knew what it took to win, even if it meant selling a few extra pizzas to obtain some of the greatest players in the market. But he didn’t do that for himself, he did it for the people and city of Detroit.
Thank you Mr. I for four Stanley Cups and two World Series runs
Thank you for leading two teams I can count on to be successful when the Pistons began their downfall and when the Lions continued to be the Lions.
Thank you for obtaining Miguel Cabrera and how I can tell my future kids he’s the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen.
But most importantly, thank you to everything you’ve done to the city of Detroit. We will never forget you.
Growing up a fan of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesars pizza, it was easy to call myself a fan of Mr. Mike Ilitch. The man was a visionary who helped redefine the name “Detroit” and he pulled the city and its people up by their bootstraps and led the revolution to turn our city into what it is becoming now.
When I heard about the death of the legend, I felt a piece of me leave my body. Mr. Ilitch was a man that I have admired my entire life for his dedication, hard work, positive attitude and overall likeability. Not all fans are blessed to have a wonderful owner for their favorite team, and even less have the same man own two of them.
Without Mr. Ilitch, my life and involvement in sports would be very different than it is today. How could I forget the feeling of beating Sidney Crosby and the evil Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 to win a Stanley Cup Championship? I probably still have the championship hat that I bought somewhere at my house. Or the 2012 American League Conference Series when the Tigers swept the Yankees, backed by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder–the man Ilitch brought in himself. I was at that game and I still remember the feeling of every single hair on my body standing straight up as the last out was made. Nothing will ever top that.
However, there is one moment that will stick with me forever. The one moment that cemented Detroit back into the nation as a baseball city, a moment that could not have happened had Ilitch not taken the reigns of the team the decade before.
I am referring, of course, to Magglio Ordonez’s walk off homerun in the 2006 ALCS to finish off the Oakland A’s and send the Tigers to their first World Series in over 20 years.
It was at that moment, when the ball left Maggs’ bat, that I fell in love with baseball and I have not looked back since.
For that, I thank Mr. Ilitch. It was on his dime that players like Ordonez and Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez were brought in, and players like them were the sparks to send the Tigers to the biggest stage.
It pains me that Mr. Ilitch was unable to capture a World Series title in his time here despite how hard he tried, but something tells me that with “M.I.” patches on their chests and determination in their hearts, this could be the season where his Tigers and mine secure the elusive title—and it would be entirely for you, Mike.
Rest in peace.
I found out the news of Mr. Ilitch's death after I woke up from a nap and took a quick look at Twitter to read up on the upcoming Detroit Pistons game. I saw his name was trending, and I figured it had something to do with the new Little Caesars Arena. I tapped on the forum and saw tweets from athletes all over the nation saddened by his death.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I vividly remember going to someone’s house to watch the Detroit Tigers play the Boston Red Sox. FOX Sports showed a shot of him in his suite, and everyone at the party knew who he was. I thought that was pretty cool.
My favorite moment in Red Wings history was watching the 1998 championship movie when I was young. I was born in 1998, and didn’t get to see that one. I remember seeing Ilitch hold up the Stanley Cup and not knowing who he was at the time. I had no idea that he was the one that was bringing Detroit back onto its feet. The area around Comerica Park, the Fox Theater, and Ford Field is almost 100 percent because of Ilitch and his wife, Marian.
Detroit didn’t only lose a great man, the entire sports community lost a great man. It’s a shame that he won’t be able to see his new Little Caesars Arena. Rest in peace, Mike Ilitch.