Tigers and Red Wings Owner MIKE ILITCH "remains focused on a few dreams he has not yet achieved -- including a World Series crown," according to Mitch Albom of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. In a Q&A, the 82-year-old Ilitch "patiently and cheerfully discussed everything from his hopes for a World Series title to his thoughts on mortality." The following is an excerpt from the Q&A:
Q: Do you ever get sticker shock with player contracts -- like the one you just gave PRINCE FIELDER?
Ilitch: It's big numbers. Initially, they're unrealistic numbers. But if you want stars, you gotta pay the price. ... And fans want to see stars. They come out to see stars.
Q: Does the gamble still make you nervous?
Ilitch: Well, there's the business side and there's the instinct side. The business side tells me (Fielder's contract) might be a bit lengthy -- he'll be 36 at the end of it -- but my instincts tell me, "Go ahead, Mike." And I follow my instincts.
Q: Isn't that a little strange, they're gonna be with you for eight or nine years, all that money, and you're just meeting them for the first time?
Ilitch: Yeah. That's the risk. I'm thrilled to be getting (players) with such outstanding records. But ... I'm always prepared for a bust. If I couldn't handle it, I wouldn't dive in.
Q: Of all the players in both sports that you've signed, is there one that was the biggest bust?
Ilitch: (Pause.) Nobody jumps to mind.
Q: How about JUAN GONZALEZ?
Ilitch: Oh, that was a farce. That was an embarrassment. ... That was by far the worst one I was ever involved with.
Q: Some say that, because of your age, you're pulling out all the stops to win a World Series now -- and that's partly behind moves like Fielder's contract.
Ilitch: Yeah, there's truth to that. I want to do everything in my power to get the best shot, because time is running out. No use kidding myself.
Q: With STEVE YZERMAN's new career in Tampa, do you ever look back and feel badly that he wasn't able to stay with the Wings?
Ilitch: Yeah. ... When he came to tell us he was gonna leave, in that room right there, he said, "Where's Mrs. Ilitch?" And I said, "She's in the back. She can't handle this. She'll start to cry." I could see it kind of jolted him, it was that emotional. It was a shock because we all thought he was gonna stay here. But then things changed. He decided he wanted to be a GM.
Q: What about your new hockey arena?
Ilitch: It's gonna get done. ... It's gonna be downtown. I don't know if I'll see it built, but it'll get done. Definitely in the next few years. We've invested a lot of money in it already.
Q: Can you put into words what a World Series championship would mean to you?
Ilitch: I don't want to make a big deal of it. But I think, by my actions, it's pretty obvious (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/5).