Detroit — It started with a bit of flour and some water plus some slices of cheese.
Mike and Marian Ilitch added a ton of imagination into the mixture.
It exploded into a powerful empire.
As a kid, Mike, devoted to the Tigers, shagged fly balls hit into the outfield by Hank Greenberg at Navin Field. Greenberg in extra morning batting practice sessions. Greenberg soaked the baseballs in buckets of water to make them heavier, so he could hit them harder.
Other times, young Ilitch rode to Red Wings' games in the back of a pickup truck, down to the redbrick Olympia Stadium on Grand River.
Mike, once upon a time, told me these stories of his boyhood. He had his sports dreams. We all did. It's a normal part of Americana.
His developed into true life.
He was a Marine. He played pro baseball a while in the Tigers' farm system.
In 1959, Mike and Marian started baking pizza pies. Little Caesars has long been a worldwide enterprise. Along the way, Mike became owner of a theater.
He built arenas. And he went deep back into his roots; he acquired ownership of the Red Wings and the Tigers.
Close but no cigar
Mike, with Marian, has been fortunate to do almost everything he wanted to do, Except acquiring the ultimate prize — winning a World Series as owner of the Tigers.
Four Stanley Cup championships with his Red Wings. They were something for Detroit and Michigan to celebrate.
Two pennants in nine years now for the Tigers! OK, but not the ultimate.
As a sports clubowner, with I presume billions, he has a penchant for employing stars. He also has the penchant for dumping them when he is displeased.
He has a ruthless streak. It showed immediately, the day he took over as owner of the Tigers on Aug. 26, 1992. There was an inauguration ceremony on the field where Ilitch had, as a lad, shagged Greenberg's batting practice shots.
The ownership transition from pizza magnate Tom Monaghan to pizza magnate Mike Ilitch seemed to be conducted in harmony.
That night there was a press release.
Ilitch had fired the Tigers' entire front-office hierarchy. The victims included the general manager, faithful baseball man Joe McDonald.
Gone, through the Ilitch years, in one manner, or another, have been a brigade of sports luminaries.
Sparky Anderson, pushed out as manager of the Tigers.
Scotty Bowman, nudged away as mastermind of the Red Wings.
Jerry Walker, Joe Klein and Randy Smith — hired in succession by Ilitch to serve as Tigers general managers — fired or pushed out for reasons never explained.
Ilitch is not required to explain. He plainly was displeased with the performance of his ballclub on the ball field.
And now Dave Dombrowski as president/general manager/CEO of the Tigers after a 14-year run of meritorious service. Fired. Cruelly. In midseason.
Dombrowski replaced hours after three controversial trades that gave every indication that the Tigers were quitting for the 2015 season. Arms raised in surrender, while the ballclub still had a viable chance to reach Major League Baseball's playoffs under ex-commissioner Bud Selig's whimsical double wild-card system. Giving up with a possible shot to reach World Series with an ordinary record.
Quit — as seen here last week — is a word that must rankle Ilitch although he approved the deals.
David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenes Cespedes, free agents-to-be, shipped away for a bevy of pitching prospects. And Dombrowski's eye for baseball talent has already been certified again, as he has been knocked out of a job. Two of those new young pitchers, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, have already won pitching starts for the Tigers.
Trades were Dombrowski's specialty. He landed a young Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins. He negotiated the deal to sign Prince Fielder, then off-loaded him in a trade in which the Tigers obtained Ian Kinsler from the Rangers. He basically ripped off the Red Sox for Jose Iglesias in a three-team trade.
That's three-quarters for the Tigers' regular infield.
Dombrowski acquired Anibal Sanchez via trade with the Marlins and Doug Fister in a swap with the Mariners. Through the years, Dombrowski maneuvered to acquire Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks and Price from the Rays in two of his slick three-club trade maneuvers.
In making all these trades, Dombrowski depleted the Tigers' farm system. It needed replenishment.
And some of Dombrowski's deals turned out to be bummers. Fister was traded away to the Nationals for little in return. Shane Greene, acquired for this season in another three-pry deal involving the Yankees, has struggled.
Scherzer was permitted to flee to the Nationals as a free agent, essentially forfeited away after rejecting one mammoth contract offer.
In the Dombrowski years, the Tigers were contending for the World Series on the installment plan. Grab the luxury item now. Pay up later.
For some reason — an insufficient press release failed to explain why — Dombrowski paid up with his job. Al Avila, assistant GM under Dombrowski, placed on the griddle as successor.
My outside the loop interpretation is that two egos clashed here. And as Dombrowski told media folks, Ilitch owns the business.
Likely this was not an impromptu decision after the three trades in the last days of July. Ilitch, presumably, mulled over this "change of direction" decision since the end of last season. My view again. Dombrowski's contract was due to expire at the end of this season and supposedly, Ilitch never discussed an extension.
Mike Ilitch, the Marine of long ago, does not tolerate surrender.
His method is to run a tight operation. He insists on victory. There is nothing other than an ultimate championship. All else is defeat. He'll spend and he'll fight; he gave that trait away more than 40 years ago when he bought the Detroit Caesers softball club and stocked the team with Norman Cash, Jim Northrup and others of the 1968 World Champion Tigers.
Quitting is no part of his character.
It is an admirable method, I say.
Mike is an octogenarian now — me too — he is not accessible to we-the-media as he was with the Caesars in the 1970s. Much is left to be told.
This much is known, though.
Brad Ausmus and his remaining Tigers players were hugely ticked off after the trades.
Relief pitcher Alex Wilson said it best the other day when he told reporters post-victory:
"You've got a bunch of guys in this clubhouse who were told they don't belong in a pennant race, and we're out to prove something."
All is not flour and water. Or milk and honey!
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter.