Founder of Little Caesars Pizza, and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, Mike Ilitch, died on Friday at the age of 87. The native son of Detroit will be sorely missed and remembered for his contributions to the world of business, as well as sports. The cause of death is not yet known.
Ilitch’s path to decades of success started with a mediocre baseball career where he played just four seasons in the minors for the team he would purchase years later. Only when he, and his loving wife, Marian opened the first Little Caesars in 1959, did Ilitch’s brand start to take shape. The restaurant, now massive success, has helped make him and his wife a net worth of $6.1 billion, according to Forbes.
In 1982, Ilitch purchased the Detroit Red Wings in a move that brought him back into the sporting industry, and one that changed the beloved franchise forever. After he took control of ownership and spent years of rebuilding, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cup Championships and made the playoffs in an astounding 25 consecutive years.
Ken Holland, the Red Wings general manager, released a statement that said, “Mr. I stands as one of America’s greatest sports team owners… To have been able to work with him for more than 30 years and be a part of turning a struggling franchise into a champion again was an experience of a lifetime. His commitment to his team and our fans, is the reason we all feel a part of “Hockeytown”. He will be deeply missed by those of us who were fortunate enough to know him and call him a friend.”
In 1992, Ilitch dipped his toes further into Motor City sports when he purchased the Detroit Tigers for about $85 million. Though the club made two World Series appearances in 2006 and 2012, they fell short both times.
In an interview with USA Today, Ilitch said “I want to win the World Series, but not for me. For our community. Baseball has such a tremendous effect on a city. It would bring so much joy. It would mean everything.”
Team reaction quickly followed the news of the beloved owner:
“Mr. I was truly one of the great ones… He was a friend and an inspiration and he will be deeply missed… I’ve never seen a man more dedicated to this community and to baseball than Mr. I… “What he has done for this franchise, and for Detroit, is immeasurable. He was always there to give us whatever we needed because he wanted greatness and happiness for all of us – especially the fans,” said GM Al Avila in a statement released by the team.