DETROIT — Mike Ilitch, founder of the Little Caesars Pizza empire and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers, died on Friday. He was 87.
Mr. Ilitch, who was praised for keeping his professional hockey and baseball teams in Detroit as other urban sports franchises relocated to new suburban stadiums, died at a hospital in Detroit, according to Doug Kuiper, a family spokesman.
Mr. Ilitch and his wife, Marian, founded Little Caesars in suburban Detroit in 1959, and eventually turned the business into the world’s largest carryout pizza chain, with several spinoff companies. Under his ownership and open checkbook, the Red Wings soared back to stability and won four Stanley Cup championships, and the Tigers — who had scouted a young Mr. Ilitch in the 1940s — made it to the World Series.
He was as much a fan of the often-struggling city of Detroit as he was of sports. When approached in 2009 by organizers of the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Mr. Ilitch agreed to sponsor the annual college football bowl game despite a poor local economy. The game was renamed the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
“It’s a sporting event, and we need sporting events,” Mr. Ilitch said at the time. “It picks our community up to no end, with all the great colleges we have in this state and the professional teams that we have. Thank God for ‘em, especially at times that are rough right now.”
The son of Macedonian immigrants, Mr. Ilitch was born on July 20, 1929. He played baseball at Detroit’s Cooley High School and was signed by his hometown Tigers after his four-year stint in the Marines, spending three years in the team’s farm system before a knee injury ended his playing career.
But he found his niche in business. His family’s companies had combined revenues of $2.4 billion in 2011.
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