Tigers owner Mike Ilitch treated Tigers fans this past Tuesday to some of the most exciting news Tigers fans have had, signing slugger Prince Fielder, since they dealt for Miguel Cabrera prior to the 2008 season. This came as a shock to most of us in Detroit, but it certainly was a pleasant jolt to what has been mostly a ho-hum off-season. Tigers President David Dombrowski has claimed for months the Tigers weren’t involved in any high stakes players, despite all of the speculation that surrounded the team. I, for one, was pretty convinced that Dombrowski was telling the truth, and had written off any addition to the team other than a cheap DH option, and possibly Yoennis Cespedes.
Much to Tigers fans’ delight everywhere, Owner Mike Ilitch got aggressive once again, and lived up to his promise of making a big splash. A 214M dollar kind of a splash.
Since 2003, when the Tigers were historically bad, Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch has been an integral part of attempting his best to make the Tigers better. It is widely known that after the 119 loss season in 2003, Ilitch rolled out the red carpet for Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and convinced him to sign with Detroit on a contract that was considered an overpay. Given the Tigers situation at the time, that was the only way to convince players to sign, and Ilitch bit the bullet. He also signed Rondell White and Fernando Vina, and the Tigers were on the way to not being doormats anymore.
Ilitch didn’t just stop signing guys before 2004. He began giving the go ahead to add guys like Magglio Ordonez to the payroll, and also add money to the draft budget to sign guys who were falling because…well…they were tough too expensive to sign for many. He authorized dropping money on Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Justin Verlander. And in 2006, all of the free agent signings, the money for 1st rounders, and David Dombrowski’s smart deals resulted in a World Series appearance. Unfortunately of course, the Tigers lost in 2006, and the team had to retool as it lacked offense.
The Tigers were solid in 2007 after trading for an expensive Gary Sheffield, but it was clear that the team needed even more offense. After the season, Miguel Cabrera of the Florida Marlins became available, and Mike Ilitch reportedly told David Dombrowski to go out and get him. So Dombrowski traded the farm to do so. Ilitch backed up the move by signing Cabrera to the richest contract in Tigers history. The Tigers now had it’s superstar. While things didn’t go as planned in 2008, Ilitch remained committed to winning a World Series with the Tigers, and resurfaced in 2010 in the efforts to get Johnny Damon.
2009 and 2010 brought heartbreak to Tigers fans, as a pair of poor second halves of seasons cost the Tigers potential playoff appearances. It didn’t stop Ilitch though from locking up the Tigers 2nd budding star in Justin Verlander, once again making a commitment to Tigers fans and the city that he wanted to keep its’ stars playing for Detroit.
But that is not even the whole story.
The Tigers are one of a few clubs in baseball that have been operating at a loss the past three years. According to Forbes, the Tigers have lost a whopping 84M dollars during that span. Despite that, Ilitch green lighted the contracts of Johnny Damon and Victor Martinez over that time frame, on top of the Verlander extension. Now, Forbes also has Ilitch’s personal value at 1.7 billion dollars, so I don’t think the average man is going to cry for his losses. However, as fans of the Tigers, I think it is more than fair to acknowledge the fact that not many owners of any sports franchises are willing to lose that kind of money in an effort to win.
So, when the Tigers announced an over 200M dollar commitment to Prince Fielder on Tuesday, yeah, I was as surprised as much as anyone, but maybe we shouldn’t have been. What Mike Ilitch did is say to Tigers fans that he wants to win a World Series in his lifetime, and he has proved once again that he is willing to do whatever it takes to do so. It’s almost somewhat inspiring to see an owner who clearly wants to win more than he does make money. After all, he has enough of that. He even has championships with the Red Wings, but its the World Series trophy he is after.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am not trying to push Mr. Ilitch into sainthood or anything. I don’t know the guy, or what he is like on a personal level. What I do know is that he is a good owner, and even if his motivations for winning a World Series is selfish, it doesn’t matter. He is the one taking the loss financially to do so. And what should we care about his motivation? The end result is him willing to put a competitive product on the field, and that is all we can ask for from a franchise owner.
Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Johnny Damon, Victor Martinez, and now Prince Fielder. None of these moves happen with an owner that is more worried about his bottom line than he is with winning. The effort is appreciated even if it hasn’t brought the city of Detroit a title yet. I hope the moves, and signings he has approved, result in a World Series win. Not just for the fans, but for Mike Ilitich as well.
Let’s hope for all of us, he gets his wish, and that World Series win comes soon.