Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch and the Pizza Fund

Miguel Cabrera

For those of you unfamiliar with Mike Ilitch – here’s the 83 year-old father of Little Caesar’s Pizza, philanthropist of Detroit, owner of the Red Wings, former minor-leaguer and well-known Michigan magnate of the last couple of decades.

He has made a lot of money from all of that pizza, and won the hearts of a lot of Michiganders, mostly based on his success with the Red Wings.

Of late, his name has become synonymous with Detroit Tigers baseball; before that, he was infamous for Tigers baseball.

Ilitch bought the team in ’92 from another pizza-shop billionaire, Tom Monaghan, and the Tigers did next to nothing until 14 years later when they made the 2006 World Series. The berth came only three years after the Tigers compiled one of the worst records in baseball history; they went 43-119 in the 2003 season.

For those familiar with Mr. I., the last two offseasons have been a welcome surprise.

Enter, Prince Fielder (9 years, $214MM).

Enter, Torii Hunter (2 years, $36MM).

Forget about all the money they’re already spending on Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. That’s a given. What’s surprising for Detroit sports fans is Mr. I.’s willingness to spend big on his baseball team on a consistent basis, something he’d done with the Red Wings. Over the past few years in Detroit, there was a sense the Tigers were happy with the ‘close’ and not intent on the ‘cigar.’

It’s clear now that Mr. Ilitch is intent on a ring, and he’s ready to cash in some of that pizza money.

The Tigers projected lineup in 2013 will look different with two additions. Detroit will get its designated hitter back in a healthy Victor Martinez, and Torii Hunter’s signing today means the Tigers will once again have a hitter to bat second. Hunter’s signing also addressed Detroit’s needs of speed, defense and leadership.

Barring injuries, and the effects of age, the 2013 lineup will arguably be the best in baseball:

  1. Austin Jackson CF
  2. Torii Hunter RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera 3B
  4. Prince Fielder 1B
  5. Victor Martinez DH
  6. Andy Dirks LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta SS
  8. Alex Avila C
  9. Omar Infante 2B

This assumes manager Jim Leyland ignores his own history of batting the righty-lefty lineup, and the Tigers don’t add another player. Jim Bowden reported after the Hunter signing that the Tigers are interested in OF Cody Ross (twitter link).

One thing is clear, the pizza money is not being saved for a rainy day. Mr. I. wants a ring. He wants to bring another celebration to Detroit. Who can blame him?

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Tomas Laverty
Tomas Laverty, frequent contributor to the MLB section, runs a Detroit web design company called Detroit Spaces.