By DREW OLSON
Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch built his fortune -- and a sports empire -- out of pizza dough.
Ilitch is the founder and owner of Little Caesers Pizza, a company he started in 1959. He bought the Detroit Red Wings in 1982 and then snapped up the Tigers 10 years later. He’s worth just shy of $2 billion, turns 83 years old in July and was willing to spend “Crazy Bread” to add a World Series trophy to the four Stanley Cup replicas in his trophy case.
In other words, Ilitch was just the kind of guy Scott Boras was waiting for...
Boras, baseball’s most accomplished player agent, spent the last few months searching for a $200 million deal for his biggest free agent client, former Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder.
While the rumor mill wound its way from Washington D.C. to Seattle and Texas to Toronto, many Brewers fans prayed that some how, some way, Fielder just might decide to come back to Milwaukee on a one-year contract.
Meanwhile, Boras stayed in his state-of-the-art laboratory hidden in the side of a mountain -- or in a very nice building in Newport Beach -- and he laughed. Boras “slow played” the negotiations to perfection. After playing the Nationals and Rangers against each other, he convinced Ilitch that the Tigers needed Fielder’s bat to replace one previously swungVictor Martinez, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Fielder has a nine-year, $214 million deal -- the fourth-largest in baseball history. If you consider that it costs $5 for one of Little Caesars signature 14-inch “Hot and Ready” pies, well, Prince can buy almost 43 million pizzas.
Brewers fans are bummed today, with good reason. He still has plenty of work to do, but Fielder built the foundation of a Hall of Fame career at Miller Park.
As Boras pointed out in his glossy 73-page “book,” Fielder is the seventh player in major league history to hit 32 or more homers in a season five times through age 27. Boras projects that Fielder will have 500 homers, 1,500 RBI and 1,300 walks by the time he is 35. The only guys to accomplish that? Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.
Fielder is a superstar. He’s one of the best left-handed hitters in the game. He is a leader in the clubhouse. He’s a perennial threat to win the Home Run Derby and the kind of guy that fans gravitate toward.
On the other side of Lake Michigan, the Fielder signing is a big hit among fans who watched him toddle around Tiger Stadium with his father, Cecil, swatting upper-deck homers before he was a teenager.
After swatting homers in a 1-2 punch with Ryan Braun at Miller Park, Fielder will settle into Comerica and work up a celebratory return with Miguel Cabrera, who just might be the most dangerous right-handed batter in the game. With Justin Verlander on top of the rotation, Detroit was already expected to be a contender for the American League title. Fielder just increases the odds, but experts are wondering if the price was too steep.
Today, tomorrow, next month and next season, Milwaukee’s loss is Detroit’s gain. The only consolation for Brewers fans is the knowledge that most mega-deals like this end badly, either because of age, injury, acrimony or a combination of all three.
The Brewers, whose payroll will pass $100 million in 2012, maxed out after signing Braun to a mega-extension in May and simply did not have the budget to retain Fielder.
With Braun facing a possible 50-game suspension and the team’s annual “On Deck” celebration approaching this weekend, Fielder’s departure is a bitter pill for Brewers fans to swallow.
Eventually, though, folks may realize that the only thing worse than watching Fielder walk away today would be watching him play at a gigantic salary in 2017 and beyond.
Opinion, news, notes and nonsense
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Bucks veteran Stephen Jackson is creating more "juice" off the court (getting benched, missing buses and demeaning 540 ESPN interns) than he is on the court. That's not a positive sign for Milwaukee.
SportsPage video of the day
Detroit fans are loving this trip down Memory Lane:
BUCKS -- at Houston, 7 tonight
BADGERS -- vs. Indiana, 8 p.m. Thursday
GOLDEN EAGLES -- at Villanova, 11 a.m. Saturday
TODAY’S ESPNMILWAUKEE LINEUPS
5 a.m. -- Mike & Mike in the Morning
9 a.m. -- Green and Gold Today
10 a.m. -- The D-List
1 p.m. -- Scott Van Pelt Show
3 p.m. -- Homer and Thunder
6 p.m. -- ESPN Radio
Simulcasting 540 ESPN
Broadcasting in Spanish
THIS DATE IN SPORTS HISTORY (JAN. 25)
1894 - James J Corbett KOs Charley Mitchell in 3 for Heavyweight boxing title
1924 - 1st Winter Olympic games open in Chamonix, France
1939 - Joe Louis KOs John Henry Lewis in 1 for Heavyweight boxing title
1945 - NY Yankees sold by Ruppert estate to Larry MacPhail, Dan Topping, &
1972 - 25th NHL All-Star Game: East beats West 3-2 at Minnesota
1974 - Ray Kroc, CEO (McDonald's), buys SD Padres for $12 million
1975 - 10th hat trick in Islander history-Denis Potvin's 1st
1978 - Padres trade pitcher Dave Tomlin & $125,000 to Rangers for Gaylord Perry (He wins 1978 Cy Young Award)
1980 - Dutch government demands boycott of Olympics
1981 - Superbowl XV: Oakland Raiders beat Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10 in New Orleans Superbowl MVP: Jim Plunkett, Oakland, QB
1987 - 75th Australian Mens Tennis: S Edberg beats Pat Cash (63 64 36 57 63)
1987 - Superbowl XXI: NY Giants beat Denver Broncos, 39-20 in Pasadena Superbowl MVP: Phil Simms, NY Giants, QB
1988 - Longest winless streak in Toronto Maple Leaf history (15 games)
1989 - Michael Jordan scores his 10,000th NBA point in his 5th season
1991 - Brett Hull is 3rd NHLer to score 50 goals in less than 50 games (49)
1991 - Mark Waugh scores ton in 1st Test Cricket innings, v England Adelaide
1992 - 66th Australian Womens Tennis: Monica Seles beats M Fernandez (62 63)
1994 - Australia beat South Africa 2-1 to win the World Series Cup
1997 - 71st Australian Womens Tennis: Martina Hingis beat Mary Pierce (62 62)
1998 - Helen Alfredsson wins Office Depot LPGA tournament
1998 - Spice Girl Victoria Adams (Posh) & soccer David Beckham get engaged
1998 - Superbowl XXXII: Denver Broncos beat Green Bay Packers 31-24
JAN. 25 BIRTHDAYS
1918 - Ernie Harwell, American baseball sportscaster
1924 - Lou "The Toe" Groza, AAFC, NFL tackle, kicker (Cleveland Browns)
1937 - Don Maynard, NFL receiver (NY Jets), #13
1941 - Elzie "Buddy" Baker, race-car driver
1942 - Carl Eller, American football player
1951 - Steve Prefontaine, Coos Bay Oregon, 5K (Olympics-4th-1972)
1954 - Condredge Holloway, Alabama, CFL quarterback (Ottawa, Toronto)
1954 - Ricardo Bochini, Argentinian footballer
1957 - Jeff Gossett, NFL punter (Oakland Raiders)
1962 - Chris Chelios, Chicago, NHL defenseman (Chicago Blackhawks, Team USA)
1963 - Joe Lloyd, Highland Park Ill, Canadian Tour golfer (1993 Space Coast)
1964 - Bob Sweeney, Concord, NHL center (NY Islanders, Calgary Flames)
1964 - William Thomas Andrade, Fall River MA, PGA golfer (1991 Kemper Open)
1965 - Brian Holman, Winfield Ks, pitcher (Cin Reds, Seattle Mariners)
1965 - Esa Tikkanen, Helsinki FI, NHL left wing (Panthers, Canucks, Oly-B-98)
1966 - John [Vo] Velyvis, North Adams Mass, rower (Olympics-1996)
1966 - Mark Schlereth, NFL guard (Denver Broncos-Superbowl 32)
1966 - Paul Ranheim, St Louis, NHL left wing (Hartford Whalers)
1970 - Chris Mills, NBA forward (Cleveland Cavaliers, NY Knicks)
1973 - Anthony Harris, linebacker (Miami Dolphins)
1976 - Tara Fleming, N York Ontario, LPGA golfer (1992 LPGA Corning-10th)
1978 - Derrick Turnbow, Major League Baseball Player