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Ilitch rival Tom Monaghan mourns 'tenacious competitor'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Tom Monaghan and Mike Ilitch were fierce competitors, as dueling pizza magnates and later as bidders for the Detroit Tigers.

Mike Ilitch, the new owner of the Detroit Tigers, proudly displays a jersey presented to him on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 1992 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit after he announced he had purchased the team.

In 1983, Monaghan, founder of Domino's, outbid Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars in purchasing the Tigers from John Fetzer, and in his first year as owner, the Tigers won their fourth and last World Series championship.

A decade later, Monaghan wanted out, and so he turned to his old rival, Ilitch, who bought the franchise for $85 million. At the time of his death Friday, Ilitch's Tigers were worth more than $1 billion.

"It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Mike on Friday," Monaghan, 79, an Ann Arbor native, said in a statement to The Detroit News on Saturday. "My thoughts and prayers are with the Ilitch family as they are mourning the loss of their patriarch.

"Mike was always a tenacious competitor in business and sports alike. He was also an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word.

"The world has certainly lost a great man, but he left an indelible mark on the pizza industry, sports and the City of Detroit."

Wojo: Ultra-competitor Ilitch made Detroit a winner

Other dignitaries continued to react to Ilitch's death at the age of 87.

President George W. Bush owned the Texas Rangers early in Ilitch's tenure with the Tigers, and welcomed Ilitch and the Red Wings to the White House following a pair of Stanley Cups.

"Laura and I are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend, Mike Ilitch," Bush said in a statement. "Mike was a great citizen of our country, a self-made man with talent, drive and a huge heart. My favorite memories with Mike are of our discussions about our shared love, baseball.

"Another of Mike's passions was his beloved Detroit. He generously gave back to his city and made it a better place. Most of all, Mike loved his family a lot.

"We send our heartfelt condolences."

Another man with strong Texas ties, Pudge Rodriguez, was mourning late Friday.

Ilitch put a full-court press on Rodriguez following the 2003 season — in which Rodriguez had won a World Series with the Marlins, and Ilitch had just seen his Tigers lose an AL-record 119 games.

At a time big-named free agents wouldn't even take the Tigers' calls, Rodriguez stunningly signed with the Tigers, and that started the franchise's resurgence.

“I am very sorry to hear about the passing of Mr. Ilitch," Rodriguez said in a statement, to The News. "I am so happy that I was able to meet him and play for his team.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the Ilitch family. I will miss him."