Mike Ilitch died in Detroit on Friday. Detroit is also the city where he was born, where started Little Caesars Pizza and developed an enterprise worth billions, and where he ended up owning two of its four sports teams.
That’s a lot of history and money with one place, and it’s pretty remarkable that it hasn’t generated more critical assessments of his legacy. The sports ownership part is pretty much ironclad — five Stanley Cups with Detroit, and a rebirth of a Tigers franchise that never won a World Series for Ilitch, but not for a lack of trying, much to the White Sox’ chagrin.
I thought this one from the Detroit Free-Press was going to get into the rough-and-tumble of the business side, as it deals with Ilitch using his clout to get Comerica Park built over the objections of those who wanted to preserve Tiger Stadium or know more about the public financing portion. But then the author grants that Ilitch had invested millions into downtown Detroit (not counting his decision to move his headquarters there), Comerica Park has been a success, and then it’s over.
The second link has one paragraph that sums it up Ilitch’s legacy with Detroit:
The city and the businessman forged a mutually beneficial relationship and Ilitch got a lot of tax incentives along the way, but the role he played in revitalizing downtown Detroit, creating one of the most vibrant sports and entertainment sectors of any city in the nation, and becoming one of the great team owners in sports history, were undeniable.
Yet it glosses over the new Red Wings arena with a sentence when it’s worthy of much more scrutiny. I’m guessing the publicly financed stadium and its pitfalls are easier to overlook when there’s a positive correlation with the image of downtown Detroit, and if the recipient of such benefits has his own skin in the game elsewhere.
Outside of the occasional reference to tax breaks, the tributes have all been admiring, especially on the sports side. His legacy might be as unfettered as modern ownership gets.
Contrast that with Jeffrey Loria, who is reportedly in the stages of selling the Miami Marlins for $1.6 billlion. Jeff Passan unloaded on him in a column that sums up Loria’s destruction in both Florida and Canada.
Early in the day, simultaneous feelings of joy and fury accompanied the Forbes report that Loria had agreed to sell the Miami Marlins to an unnamed buyer for $1.6 billion. Joy because the owner who played arsonist to his own franchise was relinquishing his Zippo. And fury because one of the worst owners in sports had turned a $158.5 million investment into something worth 10 times as much, an example other owners with similarly feeble consciences may be tempted to copy.
Whatever frustration percolated over a rich man getting even richer paled compared to the ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead giddiness expressed by Marlins players and executives past and present in texts and calls to one another. Presuming the deal goes through – plenty of pitfalls remain, a source familiar with the agreement confirmed to Yahoo Sports, and Loria would like to bask in the glow of the All-Star Game at Marlins Stadium in July, so the timing of any sale remains unclear – it will bring to an end an ownership reign that stained the sport for more than a decade.
There are obstacles in the way of transitions. Unique to Miami, some of the proposed new owners have ties to the White House. For Detroit, Ilitch’s wife, Marian, is owner of a casino, and a Major League Baseball owner can’t hold operating stakes in a gambling facility. If both result in dramatically new ownership by the end of the year, both ends of the goodwill spectrum will have been redefined.