Tough year for the Detroit Red Wings. The retirement of Pavel Datsyuk, saying good bye to the Joe, losing Gordie Howe, and now gone is one of the most important men in franchise history. Rest in Peace, Mike Ilitch.
Ilitch’s story starts long before his ownership of the Tigers and Red Wings. Ilitch is a Detroit native, the son of two immigrants. After graduating Cooley High School, Ilitch made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our country and spent 4 years in the Marines. Shout out to the Vets, thank you for your service.
Upon returning home, Ilitch actually signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers to play 2nd base and spent 3 years on the diamond before a knee injury ended his playing chances at 26.
In 1959 Ilitich and his wife, Marian, set up shop in the Pizza biz opening the Little Caesars Pizza Treat in Garden City Michigan. I’d like to think the first three items on the menu were as follows:
They really didn’t need much else and it wasn’t long until franchises and multiple locations popped up all over the mitten. Say what you want about the quality of the pizza, but I really don’t care. Yea it’s not the best, but talk to a suburban house mom with kids and ask her how easy it was to pick up two $5 pizzas for dinner on the way home from carting around a bunch of brats all day.
Speed up to 1982 and we see Mike Ilitch kick it into overdrive purchasing the Detroit Red Wings for a cool 8 million dollars. The Red Wings were in the cellar at that point, not having seen Lord Stanley’s cup since 1955. His first draft pick? How about a little known Center named Steve Yzerman. Under Ilitch’s eye starting in ’82 leading up to his passing the Red Wings had an NHL Best .587 %, the team was at .399% (18th of 22 team) previously.
Watch me break it down like:
6 Conference Titles
6 Presidents Trophies
The culture of the team and organization changed into what is now the gold standard of the league and sports in general.
Not a big baseball guy here, but Ilitch also bought the Detroit Tigers in 1992. Huge power move; He bought it from the guy who owns Domino’s. He is on record saying his true dream was to bring a World Series to the city of Detroit. He shelled out for free agents every season. He built a core that included the GREATEST batter ever and a few of the best pitchers going at that time, but fell short of the ship twice in 2006 and 2012. The turn around here was also incredible considering they lost 119 games in 2003 and found themselves in the WS three years later. Fuck Billy Beane somebody make a movie about Mike Ilitch and how you CAN (almost) buy a championship.
Ilitch is also responsible for the revitalization of Detroit in general. He stood firm in the city and believed in it’s potential when literally nobody else did. He invested in the city, the Fox Theatre, Wayne State, Hockeytown Cafe, Comerica Park, and eventually the new District Detroit home of the Little Ceasar’s Arena which will host the Red Wings and Pistons.
Mike Ilitch started with $10,000 in savings and turned it in to $5.4 billion by the time of his death. He brought tremendous amounts of happiness to the city of Detroit and I will forever be grateful for his existance. A true American and Detroit icon, gone at the age of 87.