Dear Ilitch Family: Sell The Detroit Tigers

Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the Detroit Tigers in 1992. Since then, the once proud franchise has an average season record of 74-88.
Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the Detroit Tigers in 1992. Since then, the once proud franchise has an average season record of 74-88. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Three decades of ownership by the Ilitch family have brought zero championships and much more losing than winning. Enough already, Chris and Marian, sell the Detroit Tigers

After 30 years of ineptitude, it’s time for the Ilitch family to sell the Detroit Tigers. Simply put, fans of this once proud franchise deserve better than billionaire owners who have no interest in fielding a competitive team in 2023 or for the foreseeable future.

What other conclusion can be drawn from an offseason that’s seen the Tigers sign only a couple of retread starting pitchers? Especially when many players who could have provided immediate help have been available via free agency. As a colleague recently wrote, the tank is on.

Now, you might say this observation is premature and it very well could be by April. But if you look at the larger context of the Detroit Tigers current ownership, perhaps not.

Little Caesars tycoon Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers in late July of 1992 for $85 million. According to Forbes Magazine, the franchise was worth $1.4 billion at the start of the 2022 season. Forbes also estimates that Marian Ilitch, widow of the pizza magnate, is worth $4.4 billion.

Given the staggering return on investment for the Ilitch family and their overall wealth, there’s absolutely no excuse for their refusal to spend money to help the latest rebuild. Even with Miguel Cabrera’s $32 million on the books for 2023, the Tigers’ payroll currently stands at about $115 million for the coming season, according to Baseball Reference. That’s more than $20 million below the average MLB payroll.

For their loyalty and support during Ilitch ownership, fans have been “treated” to boatload of losing.

The Detroit Tigers winning percentage under the Ilitch family is .456 over those 30 seasons. That’s an average record of 74-88.

To put it in greater perspective, the Tigers have had winning records in only nine seasons. Meanwhile, they’ve lost 90 games or more in 12 seasons, including more than 100 in four of those years.

In 2003, Detroit went 43-119, an American League record for losses. In fact, only one team in Major League Baseball history lost more games in a season when the New York Mets went 40-120 in 1962.

Frankly, Ilitch ownership of the Detroit Tigers has been an embarrassment.

As every sports fan in this city knows, the Ilitch family also owns the Detroit Red Wings. If not for the success of the Wings – four Stanley Cup championships – and the good will built from winning, fans and media would’ve pushed much harder for the Ilitch family to sell the Tigers before now. The fans’ good will and patience should be at an end.

Players have changed. Managers and general managers have changed. A new ballpark was built. And despite all those changes, losing under Ilitch family ownership has remained a constant.

Listen, there’s no fault in wanting profitability from a business. But owning a sports franchise isn’t just about the bottom line, it can’t be.

The Tigers are as much a trust, an institution belonging to the people of Detroit as a for-profit business. In that sense, sports franchise owners are caretakers and guardians who must be committed to the fans by putting winning teams on the field.

The fact is, the Ilitch family has failed. So, Chris and Marian, do the right thing. Take your handsome profit from selling the franchise and give fans the owners they deserve.

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