Here’s a roundup of remembrances of Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87.
- Former Tigers manager and current special assistant Jim Leyland was “brokenhearted” that the team couldn’t win a World Series for Ilitch, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press writes. “I can remember how bad we wanted it,” says Leyland. “That’s the one thing we were always brokenhearted about: That we didn’t get a World Series for him because he’s the guy that we wanted it for. We just fell a little bit short.” The Tigers reached the World Series twice in seven years with Leyland as manager and Ilitch in the owner’s box, but lost both times. Ilitch, of course, spent heavily to win a championship in that period. “He never one time interfered with me trying to do my job and I always had a great appreciation for that,” says Leyland. “But you always knew who the boss was.”
- Former Tigers GM (and current Red Sox president of baseball operations) Dave Dombrowski says Ilitch was the reason he joined the organization, Fenech writes. “The reason why I joined (the Tigers) was because of him,” says Dombrowski. “He treated me well. He made me feel welcome and that part of it made me feel really good and it turned out to be a really great 14 years there.” That era ended when the Tigers parted ways with Dombrowski in August 2015, in the wake of the team’s near misses in the playoffs and World Series. “That was the thing in Detroit, that you always wanted to win a world championship for him,” Dombrowski says. “He did everything he possibly could to achieve it and we got so close. It hurt that we weren’t able to do that for him.”
- Current Tigers GM Al Avila said Friday night in a statement that Ilitch’s impact on Detroit was “immeasurable.” Said Avila, “He was always there to give us whatever we needed because he wanted greatness and happiness for all of us – especially the fans. Mr. I was truly one of the great ones. He was a friend and an inspiration and he will be deeply missed.”
- Ilitch had huge ambitions, but he was first and foremost a native of Detroit, writes Fan Rag’s Jon Heyman. Heyman points to the Tigers’ 119-loss 2003 season as a key for Ilitch and the organization. Ilitch reacted by having the Tigers add superstars Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, and the Tigers made it to the World Series in 2006. Those successful big signings encouraged Ilitch to continue investing heavily in the team, as he did for more than a decade thereafter.
- Ilitch and the city of Detroit were like an aging married couple, writes Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown. “[Y]ou couldn’t ever be sure which was holding up the other,” but they were “good together,” he writes. Fans of many teams view their owners with suspicion, but Ilitch was a native Detroiter who proved his commitment to winning by repeatedly stepping up financially.