LAKELAND, Fla. — Mike Ilitch, the billionaire businessman and owner of the Detroit Tigers, died in a Detroit-area hospital Feb. 10 at the age of 87.
The son of Macedonian immigrants, Ilitch grew up in Detroit and soon discovered his passion for food. He founded the Little Caesars pizza company, offering fast, affordable pizza to the masses.
His love of sports matched his love of food, and in 1982, he bought his local National Hockey League franchise, the Detroit Red Wings. A decade later, after returning the Red Wings to prominence in the NHL, he added to his sports holdings, buying the Tigers for $85 million.
Ilitch’s time as owner saw the Tigers win the American League pennant in 2006 and 2012 but fail to win the World Series. He also moved the team into Comerica Park, a 41,000-seat stadium in downtown Detroit, in 2000.
Since the Tigers already have an aging roster, Ilitch’s passing could spur the team’s front office to cut the payroll and commit to rebuilding the roster with younger players. Ilitch’s dream of winning the World Series as an owner can no longer be realized, and as his assets are distributed, the front office finds itself in a sort of limbo.
Likewise, with Ilitch gone, his family may decide to sell the team.
Regardless of what happens to the club, Ilitch goes down as loved and respected owner. According to ESPN, Al Avila, the general manager of the Tigers said, “I’ve never seen a man more dedicated to baseball and to this community than Mr. I.”
Ilitch is also a member of the NHL Hall of Fame.