Sotir Ilitch (pronounced ILL – itch) moved his family from the country of Macedonia to Detroit in the mid-1920’s. He spent his career working for the Chrysler Corporation and enjoying every perk of the American dream. Sotir’s first son, Mike, was born in 1929, and about as soon as he could walk he fell in love with the game of baseball. His father would comment, “Almost by the time he could say the word Tiger Mike began to dream of playing shortstop for the Detroit team.”
Mike finished high school and joined the Marines. Where of course he played baseball. When he returned home he applied for a position with his favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. Seeing that he had some talent for the game, Detroit signed him to a four-year contract on their farm team hoping he would develop into a starter. But three years into the contract a serious leg injury, including a broken ankle, slammed the door on a professional sports career.
Crushed, despondent, Mike moved into his parents’ basement and got a job selling aluminum awnings door-to-door. Things didn’t go well and he ended up working as a short-order cook in the back room of a friend’s restaurant. In the slow times Mike began to develop pizzas – which became a specialty of the house. A couple of years later, in 1959, having saved $10,000 from their salaries, he and his wife left the restaurant and opened their own pizza shop nearby in Garden City, MI. They named it Little Caesar’s. The next year they opened another.
By 1994 Mike and his wife had seven children and 4,500 pizza parlors in the United States and Europe. Little Caesar’s was a runaway success. But ever grateful to his hometown, Mike and his family decided to give back. They would spend $200,000,000 making improvements in downtown Detroit. They funded children’s charities, a veterans’ organization, they provided housing for Rosa Parks during the last ten years of her life.
Oh, and in 1992 they bought a baseball team – the Detroit Tigers. Mike paid $85,000,000 for the team. Cash. And he bought it from the owner of Domino’s Pizza. When he died in February, 2017, Mike’s net worth was $6.1 billion.
This piece is not about a baseball player. Or an entrepreneur who made a lot of money. It’s about how God’s dream for us may be entirely different from our own. It’s about how our journey often takes us through dark and unforeseen places, but He is there. He is there. Even if there is a short stop along the way.
By Don Jacobsen