Mike Ilitch has passed away
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mike ilitch
Mike Ilitch has passed away.

Last week, longtime Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, passed away at the age of 87. Ilitch, a former Tigers farmhand, founded Little Ceasers Pizza in 1959, which went on to become the largest carryout pizza chain in the world. With a net worth of $6.1 billion at the time of his death, Illitch first bought the Red Wings in 1982 for $8 million, presiding over Stanley Cup victories in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008, before being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002. As owner of the Tigers, Illitch ironically purchased the team from fellow pizza tycoon Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, in 1992 for $85 million. In 2000, Ilitch moved the Tigers out of Tiger Stadium and into their current home, Comerica Park. While winning did not come right away for Illitch, with twelve straight losing seasons from 1994-2005, including bottoming out at 43-119 in 2003, one loss short of tying the 1962 Mets for the most in a single season.

However, 2006 bought newfound success for Illitch and the Tigers, as they won the AL Central en route to the World Series, where they lost to the Cardinals 4-1. Since then, the Tigers only had two losing seasons in the past decade (2008 and 2015) and along the way took home four straight AL Central titles from 2011-2014, while winning a second AL pennant under Illitch in 2012. Throughout his time as the owners of the Tigers, Illitch was known to spread his check book to produce wins, having been quoted as saying ““I’m not afraid to go out and spend money. It’s been very costly, but I’m not going to change my ways.” as well as “I hate to lose. I happen to be a fan with an owner’s pocketbook.” Below, we will take a look at some of the most notably large contracts given out by Mike Illitch over the course of his ownership with the Tigers, all of which cracked the top 100 largest contracts ever given out in sports.

1. Miguel Cabrera, 2016, Eight-Years, $248 Million, Average Salary of $31 Million

The fourth largest contract given out to a player in both sports and baseball history, this contract was actually signed in 2014 when Cabrera had two years left on his contract, and was coming off of back to back MVP Awards, and a Triple Crown season in 2012. In the first year of the extension, Cabrera was his usual self, hitting .316/.393/.563, while adding 38 HR and 108 RBI. While Cabrera should continue to produce at the plate, this contract takes him through the 2023 season, at which point he will be forty years old, and a likely everyday DH.

2. Prince Fielder, 2012, Nine Years, $214 Million, Average Salary of $23.778 Million

At the time, this contract was the largest ever given out in Tigers history, and is the eleventh biggest contract given to any athlete in sports history. After a successful first season with the Tigers in 2012, where he hit .313/.412/.528 with 30 HR and 106 RBI, Fielder’s numbers fell in 2013, with lower totals than the season before in HR, RBI, BB, AVG, OBP, and SLG. Following the season, the Tigers traded Fielder and $30 million to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, putting the total cost of Fielder’s contract at a little over $76 million for two seasons in Detroit.

3. Justin Verlander, 2013, Seven Years, $180 Million, Average Salary of $25.71 Million

When he signed his contract prior to the 2013 season, Verlander made himself at the time the highest paid pitcher in baseball history, agreeing to the 18th highest contract across all of sports. Coming off a Cy Young and MVP Award in 2011, and a runner-up in the Cy Young vote in 2012, Verlander had a down year by his standards in 2013, going 13-12 with an ERA of 3.46, almost a full run higher than his 2012 output. 2014 and 2015 saw Verlander struggle, with a 20-20 record and 4.08 ERA in only 339.1 IP, including a season of only 20 starts in 2015. However, 2016 saw a return to the Verlander of old, as he came in second in the Cy Young vote after leading all AL pitchers with 6.6 WAR, having stuck out a league leading 254 batters with a league 1.0001 WHIP.

4. Miguel Cabrera, 2008, Eight Years, $152.3 Million, Average Salary of $19.04 Million

The 34th largest contract in sports history, this was the first of Cabrera’s megadeals with the Tigers, and was signed before he ever played a single game in Detroit. With Cabrera in house, the Tigers won four straight AL Central titled and the 2012 AL Championship over the length of the contract. To say Cabrera over performed over the length of this deal may not be an understatement, as he made six straight All Star appearances from 2010-2015, won back to back AL MVP Awards in 2012 and 2013, won the 2012 Triple Crown (The first since 1 967) and finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting five straight seasons. Statistically, Cabrera averaged 34 HR, 115 RBI, 39 doubles, and .326/.406/.574 over the contract, winning four batting titles, and leading the lead in OBP five times.

5. Justin Upton, 2016, Six Years, $132.75 Million, Average Salary of $22.125 Million

The first of two huge signings Illitch singed off on during the 2015 offseason, Upton was welcomed to Detroit with the 49th largest contract in sports history, despite making only two All-Star appearances in his nine year career. The jury is still out on this contract, but Upton did struggle in his first year in Detroit, with career lows in AVG (.246) OBP (.310) and OPS (.775) However, Upton did hit 31 HR and have 87 RBI, making the contract look somewhat better; additionally, Tigers fans can be optimistic that Upton turned the corner in September, where he hit 13 HR, with 28 RBI and a 1.132 OPS.

6. Jordan Zimmerman, 2016, Five Years, $110 Million, Average Salary of $22 Million

A good, not elite pitcher who was often not the ace of his own team, Zimmerman was handed the 96th largest contract in sports history to join the Tigers in an attempt to help turn over the rotation with Justin Verlander. While Verlander rebounded in 2016, Zimmerman struggled, as injuries led him to only make eighteen starts. When he was healthy, he wasn’t very affective, with a 4.42 ERA and 1.367 WHIP, numbers more seen in a fringe major leaguer, not one of the highest paid players in the sport. Like Upton however, there is still plenty of time left on this deal, and Tigers fans can be hopeful that a clean bill of health will help Zimmerman revert to his Washington days, where he had a 3.32 ERA and went 70-50 over seven seasons.

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