Mike Ilitch For "Sportsman Of The Year."

Tony ButlerContributor IOctober 16, 2009

As a kid growing up in Southeastern Michigan I wasn't a big fan of baseball. I liked football more than anything. It was all about the Michigan Wolverines for me. And I also liked the Lions, even though they always seemed to lose. Of course if you asked me then who my favorite baseball team was I would have surely said the Detroit Tigers, but that was due more to proximity than being an actual fan of the game itself.

Then along came 1984 and a team led by Sparky Anderson with first baseman Darrell Evans, ALCS MVP Kirk Gibson and World Series MVP Alan Trammell, among others, who beat the San Diego Padres in the World Series. It put baseball on the map for me. I found myself getting caught up in the fever with the rest of the State of Michigan, and actually watching baseball games! But after they won I'll admit it didn't last. I moved on to football once again and that was that. Until I took the time to actually LEARN HOW to watch the game. Ask any old-timer and they will tell you the same. It's not really a sport you can just pick up overnight. And I'm glad I took the time, because I would be hard-pressed to find anything else in the world of sports that I love more than Tiger baseball.

So by now you're probably asking "What does this have to do with Mike Ilitch?" And you're probably wondering why I wish I had a vote for Sports Illustrated's annual Sportsman of the Year award so I could vote for the team's owner and not an actual player on the roster. I'll keep it short and sweet.

In the September 28, 2009 issue of SI was an article by Lee Jenkins about the Detroit Tigers. I thought it was great. It was not only about baseball and the Tigers, but about the city of Detroit as well. And all the hardship the city has endured in the past few years economically.

The article pointed out things Ilitch has done to help the fans, and local business. The organization knew fans wouldn't have a lot of extra money so they came up with more $5 tickets and two extra $5 parking lots. And they also came up with payment plans for season-ticket holders such as month to month or letting partial-season-ticket holders choose all their own dates. They also gave away more than 80,000 tickets this year and worked with more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations.

The biggest move though came last season when General Motors decided they couldn't afford to sponsor the fountain in center field. As Jenkins reported, the fountain is the most valuable piece of advertising space in the stadium. Two corporations expressed interest in taking over the ad space. Jenkins also reported that one corporation even offered to pay $1.5 million for three years. A nice chunk of change the organization could certainly use after players such as Dontrelle Willis, Joel Zumaya, and Nate Robertson proved to be totally useless, yet still draw huge paychecks.

So what did Ilitch do? He left GM's name on the fountain and added the logo's of the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler as well. FOR FREE!!! Now I'm no economist, and I certainly don't even know what 1.5 million dollars looks like, but that's pretty amazing. And it shows a tremendous amount of dedication to the city of Detroit and it's biggest employers.

I could go on a lot more about all the good things Ilitch has done with the organization, but I'll simply post a link below so you can read the article in SI yourself. He was born and raised in Detroit and has done a lot to bring pride to the city. I haven't even gotten into all he's done with the Red Wings. I'll leave that to the SI article as well.

He deserves my nod.