Monday, February 13, 2017

2.13.17 Hero of the Day: Mike Ilitch

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on



Name: Mike Ilitch
Age: was 87
Occupation: founder, Little Caesars Pizza, owner, Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers
Last Seen: tossing pizza dough way up in the heavens
Awarded For: being a real hero for Detroit
---In the mid-1950s, Mike Ilitch wanted to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers. He played for their farm team, but a knee injury prevented him from playing any more ball.

Thirty-seven years later in 1992, he actually bought the Tigers.

When Mike was forced to give up his dream of being the next Babe Ruth, he knew what else he wanted to do: make pizzas. In 1959, he and his wife, Marian opened Little Caesars Pizza Treat in a strip mall in Garden City, MI, just outside of Detroit. Almost oddly enough, that location is still there, complete with a plaque. According to the Ilitches, Marian coined the name "Little Caesar" after Mike, the son of Macedonian immigrants.

Since there weren't many pizza restaurants at the time, Little Caesars became quite popular, and in in 1962, they started franchising. Not too shabby for what started as a two-person operation where Marian would ring up customers' orders while Mike was out in the back tossing dough. Within a few years, the Illitches became quite wealthy and Little Caesars became a household name, especially in 1979 with their infamous "Pizza! Pizza!" gimmick.

In 1982, Ilitch bought the struggling Detroit Red Wings hockey team from the Norris family, who owned it for over 50 years. The team was so bad, that Ilitch gave away free cars to those attending games. However, the team became a top draw thanks to them drafting a young 18-year-old future NHL Hall of Famer named Steve Yzerman. Soon, the Red Wings slowly climbed their way back to hockey prominence and have been in the playoffs every year since 1989. In 1997, the team won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Since Ilitch bought the team, the Wings won three more Stanley Cups: 1998, 2002 and 2008.

As mentioned earlier, Ilitch also owned the Tigers. Although many of the years he's owned the team have ended in losing seasons, the team rebounded in 2006 under new manager Jim Leyland. Under his aegis, the Tigers made the World Series twice.

But if some people love to give Ilitch for anything, it's the fact that he loved Detroit and breathed it in as well. He would buy up fading Detroit landmarks like the Fox Theatre and restore them. He built new developments like Motor City Casino and Comerica Park which all brought jobs to downtown Detroit and worked his butt off to fade away the city's long-established blight.

The latest development for Ilitch was the new Little Caesars Arena, which will be the new home for the Red Wings starting next season. People were shocked when Tom Gores, the owner of the Pistons announced that his NBA team would be moving to that Arena also next year. It would be the first time since 1975 that all four major sports teams in Detroit would be playing downtown.

Sadly, Ilitch would not live to see the opening of the venue named after that simple little pizza shop he and his wife founded 58 years ago. He died on Friday at the age of 87 apparently of a long-term illness. When he passed, NHL teams all paid their respects to Ilitch, even teams that had not a lot in common with the pizza baron. When the Wings played Columbus on Saturday and Minnesota on Sunday, both teams showed their gratitude to Ilitch (also the Blue Jackets' announcer mispronounced his name as "ill-i-itch").

But if Ilitch did something nice, it would be the fact that he helped to save an American icon. When Rosa Parks was beaten up in her home in 1995, it was Ilitch who helped her move to a new apartment and allowed her to live there rent-free all of her life. It's proof that a man who embraced diversity all of his life can make life better for the common good.

Look, Tom Monaghan of Domino's turned into a jebus freak and Papa John screwed over his employees regarding the Affordable Care Act. Mike Ilitch gave a lot back to the city of Detroit (and unlike many of his competitors, he did support the Democrats). Not to mention, the $5 Hot-n-Ready pies are great if you're on a budget.

It's too bad he had to go, but I think the man upstairs needed somebody to cook him some 'za. Mike Ilitch, may you rest in pizza.


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