I was promised a Boston-style knuckle sandwich by a friend and dear correspondent after the last CSTB post I did on the increasingly dotty Peter Gammons. Interested though I am in finding out what sets a Boston-style knuckle sandwich apart from its New York model (I think it’s sauerkraut? or entitlement?), I’m not going back to the well just to piss off Steve Sykes. And honestly the offense I charged Gammons with last time — broadcasting what then seemed like some very unwarranted, un-researched happy talk on the just-then-released Gary Sheffield’s Comeback Player of the Year bid, doesn’t really seem that crazy right now. But Gammons’ new column — on the heroic profligacy of Tigers owner Mike Ilitch — is just weird.
Baseball has duly honored Jackie Robinson and the memory of veterans who fought for freedom. Now, with the Red Wings on the brink of another Stanley Cup and the Tigers in first place, it is time to honor Mike Ilitch alongside workers and family shop owners and working victims of the economy.
I don’t know Ilitch and his family, but I know what the automobile industry did to the city he loves. I am staggered that he is constructing the monuments to GM, Ford and Chrysler. I appreciate that he has lost millions upon millions to make the Tigers competitive, which allows his teams to give his people of Detroit diversion and hope and happiness.
There were reports Wednesday that Bud Selig has warned owners that he is going to try to force them to cut back bonuses by 10 percent after the June 9 draft because of the economy. [But] Ilitch is more loyal to his neighbors in Detroit than he is to Selig, which is why a 20-year-old kid named Rick Porcello won his fifth straight start Wednesday afternoon. If Selig had been able to muscle Ilitch into overruling general manager Dave Dombrowski and his esteemed scouting director David Chadd, Porcello would be pitching for the University of North Carolina on Friday against Dartmouth in the NCAA regionals.
And then there’s some more stuff and a bunch of lyrics from Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom,” and then it concludes (spoiler alert?) thusly:
Major League Baseball clearly does not care about those people in Detroit who have become underdog soldiers in the night. Thankfully, Mike Ilitch does, and for all those underemployed refugees on the unarmed roads of flight, may Rick Porcello and Miguel Cabrera stand as symbols that even a man as wealthy as Mike Ilitch is one of you. And he cares.
Which is… I kind of don’t even know where to start. But the idea that Ilitch spending a bunch of money to make his team better is somehow an indication of his Tom Joad-ian everyman cred is just weird. The Tigers lost over $26 million last year and the team’s value declined by 9%, which is a lot. They were also awful. They had $180 million in revenue in 2007 on a $101 million payroll, according to this Business Week article, which is pretty good (the revenue, not necessarily the article). They were coming off a World Series season that year. That’s the way this stuff goes, and Ilitch’s heroic paying-over-slot for Porcello — and dealing for the contracts of Dontrelle Willis and Cabrera (The Train is left out of Gammo’s monument garden) — got done in June and December of ’07, respectively, when Ilitch’s organization (and everyone else) was flush. According to the detailed breakdown in that Forbes story, the Tigers have lost money in just two of the last nine years, despite being one of the worst teams in baseball for roughly half that stretch. Oh, and Ilitch’s net worth is still $1.6 billion.
I have no problem accepting that a guy worth that much can still be an ordinary person, and care about ordinary people. I don’t even have a difficult time believing that Ilitch is a good guy; civic-minded casino and fast-food magnates have to exist, right? And I feel bad picking on Gammons, who’s kind of just doing whatever at this point. But praise Ilitch for letting laid-off GM and Chrysler workers into the stadium for free, if you’re going to lionize him as a working class hero, not for doing what he’s supposed to do as the owner of a pro sports franchise.