Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Leyland's Bandwagoneers Includes The Owner

He sat, conspicuous in his Tigers warmup jacket -- sunglasses on and sipping a drink. Instead of being hidden behind the glass of the suite, he was quite visible, sitting in a chair in the open air.

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch seemed to want people to see him. Certainly the TV cameras did, and his image was flashed on our tubes for several seconds.

It happened last weekend while the Indians were in town. Ironically, it was the same weekend in which manager Jim Leyland chided the bandwagon jumpers-on. But his owner appears to be one of those jumpers.

The image burned me a bit, because where was Mike Ilitch in 2003, when the Tigers were making a mockery of baseball in Detroit with a 43-119 record? Where was he in 1996, when the team was 53-109? Or in 2002, when Luis Pujols roamed the dugout, being propped up by a disinterested Felipe Alou? Where was he last year -- September, to be exact -- when Alan Trammell lost control and the team careened into the wall with a 10-29 stretch run to the finish line?

But the Tigers had the best record in baseball last weekend, and there the owner sat -- blatantly hoping to be seen by someone, and preferrably those with zoom lenses and video cables.

Bandwagon jumper-on, indeed!

Bill Davidson sits at the end of the court at every Pistons home game, dressed casually in his chinos and loafers, arms crossed. He's done so for over 20 years. Even when the team's record was hideous. No bandwagon jumper-on, he. His predecessor as Pistons owner, Fred Zollner, used to show up from time-to-time, until health problems forced him to retreat to the Florida sun. The Z only made a few games during his last several seasons as owner.

Bruce Norris, Ilitch's predecessor as Red Wings owner, was another absentee guy, also based in Florida, but not for health reasons. He preferred his martinis near the orange groves, apparently. He rarely showed his face in Olympia Stadium. Not that that was always a bad thing.

"He used to have a phone hooked up behind the bench and connected to his suite," former coach Bill Gadsby told me last month during a Where Are They Now? feature for MCS Magazine. "And his buddies would call me during the game and ask me all sorts of questions, like why I had certain people on the ice. And they didn't know a damn thing about hockey.

"I finally yanked the damn thing out of the wall," Gadsby said, chuckling into the phone.

Bill Ford occasionally shows up to Lions games, though beyond a brief on-field appearance with Matt Millen, he's usually tucked away, away from fans' view. Out of tomato-throwing range, as it were.

But Ilitch's attendance as a frontrunner when times are now good leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's fittingly ironic that his pocketbook has been hurt by bad attendance when the team foundered, yet only now does he show his face inside Comerica Park. Or even if he had attended when the losses piled up, we wouldn't have known, because he never was so public about it, as he was last weekend.

Seems he only wants to be seen when the winning is in full swing.

Who throws tomatoes when times are good, anyhow?

1 comment:

Ozz said...

Anyone notice how Illitch rhymes with 'son of a...'?