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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Ilitch stands up to baseball, for the fans


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.

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.

Instead, Porcello has six wins and a 1.50 ERA in his past five starts. With manager Jim Leyland's careful monitoring of Porcello's 85-95 pitch limit, the youngster is on a pace to win somewhere between 17 and 21 wins; for some perspective, over the past 50 years, the only pitchers under 21 years old to win 17 games were Doc Gooden (17 at 19, 24 at 20), Wally Bunker (19 at 19) and CC Sabathia (17 at 20).

Porcello is smart, and he comes from a family that wanted him to go to college. Ilitch had to OK more than $8 million to get him to forget about a dorm room in Chapel Hill, N.C. Ilitch took Selig's calls and allowed Chadd to go above Selig's price-fixing "slot" and sign Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, who in turn gave Dombrowski the chips to trade for Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters in the game.

So the Tigers have Cabrera, at 26 a potential Hall of Famer. They have Porcello. They have Ryan Perry, Chadd's No. 1 from last year, throwing 97 in middle relief.

In Houston, Astros fans must realize that owner Drayton McLane cares more about Selig's favor than his fans. He forces his scouting people to adhere to "slot." Hence, in 2005, they were not allowed to draft Michael Bowden or go $30,000 above slot for Josh Lindblom, and today Bowden and Lindblom would be Houston's Nos. 3-4 starters. No wonder the Astros are such a dysfunctional team.

In Pittsburgh, the signing of Pedro Alvarez last summer proved that ownership cares about the fans, not the favor of the commissioner. Pirates fans were used to ownership forcing Bryan Bullington and slot players on them instead of the best talent available.

Detroit has been a city betrayed for more than a half-century, a city with a proud history and great sports fans. It is a city whose people have been beaten down, some left in poverty by greed and incompetence, and Ilitch has used his personal fortune to make the Tigers and Red Wings the hope and happiness that allow people to look past the boarded-up houses and projects.

Here's a verse to honor an owner who cares about his city and its people:

Porcello won his sixth game the day after President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Obama suggested Sotomayor "saved baseball" by ending the 1994-95 strike and the use of replacement players to try to break the union.

She didn't necessarily save baseball; she saved the owners from themselves. The people who tried to rig the system with collusion, pay-for-performance and the artificial attempt to implement their own labor system were, as usual, ill-advised and leaderless. When Sotomayor forced the game to resume and charged that they bargain in real faith, baseball under Selig went from a $1.3 billion to $7.5 billion business.

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.