By: Will Burchfield
While Al Avila loved Mike Ilitch the owner, it is Mike Ilitch the man he’ll remember.
“Obviously he brought passion to the game and he was the type of owner that really gave you everything that you needed to be successful,” Avila told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “So from that perspective you couldn’t complain.
“But more so than that, he brought the human element where he made you feel like family.
“He’s one of those guys that was very competitive and tough and he wanted guys with him that would be as competitive and as tough as he was. But at the same time, he was a humble man and he was a compassionate man.”
Ilitch passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Avila, the Tigers’ GM, got the news from Ilitch’s son Chris.
“It was a surprise,” Avila said. “I did not know that that was going to happen, obviously.”
A big part of Ilitch’s legacy as an owner is his fierce desire to win. With both the Tigers and the Red Wings, he always seemed to value success over profit. Avila described Ilitch’s mentality as, “Whatever makes this organization better, we should try to do.”
“So in that sense,” Avila went on, “he always gave us what we needed in order to try to make us better. Obviously some of the things don’t always work out the way that you would like to, but not for the lack of trying or the lack or resources. They were always there and he always put us at the forefront.”
Ilitch was also known as an owner who shared a personal bond with his players. His hunger to win fed theirs, something that Avila said has been apparent in the Tigers’ clubhouse for years.
“We had players like Pudge, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, if you talked to any of those guys they wanted it as badly for him as we did for ourselves. And today, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D., even some of the younger guys like (Nick) Castellanos, you talk to those guys and they’ll tell you, part of their driving force is to get one for Mr. I,” Avila said.
As competitive as Ilitch was, it was his unwavering support for his players that stood out to Avila.
“If they had a great game, he was happy and he cheered them on, and if they didn’t happen to have the best of games he understood and he had that compassion. They fed off of that, they felt that for him and they really wanted to do it for him as much as anything,” Avila said.
The Tigers’ GM will remember his former boss decked out in team apparel.
“He loved to wear his Tigers jacket,” Avila recalled. “He’d always say that he was like a fan and he’d wear all the Tigers stuff.
But most of all, Avila will remember Ilitch being at his side through thick and thin.
“He was there with you, tough as nails, but at the same time he had that father figure compassion and humility,” Avila said. “He was great to work with, that’s for sure. He and Mrs. Ilitch just treat you like family.”