Outfielder Justin Upton‘s new $132-plus million deal is just the latest example of Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch‘s amazingly consistent determination and largesse. To look at Ilitch and the Tigers, you’d think Detroit was still that gleaming city of mid-century America — all flared fenders, brilliant chrome and world-beating attitude. In the Tigers clubhouse, it’s still like that — and even better. Maybe it’s because Ilich, son of first generation immigrants, went to high school in Detroit back when the city was a world business mecca. Or maybe it’s because Ilitch, though he made his billions founding Little Caesars Pizza, is really a baseball man first. After high school and the U.S. Marines he played minor league ball, signing with the Tigers organization. He never made it to the show, suffering an injury that capped his progress, but Ilitch unlike some other baseball owners knows and loves the game above all.
And he wants to win. The Tigers are above the salary cap like far richer teams called the Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees. They keep giving double-figure millions to players both established and merely with promise. Verlander, Cabrera, Sanchez, Martinez, Zimmerman, Pelfrey, Lowe. Ilitch won’t stop spending because spending is the only way to compete — and Ilitch is foremost a fierce competitor. (Ask a competing pizza outfit.) The 86-year-old billionaire will continue to pay for talent until it pays him and the city he loves back. There is always more pizza to be made to handle the bills.