By: Kurt Snyder
As the Tigers start to act like a different franchise, making decisions for the team we are just not used to seeing; it’s fair to wonder if the Ilitch family is preparing for a sale.
And in thinking about that possibility, it brings back some tough memories. The last time the Tigers changed ownership.
There is only one way our family could describe the feeling we had the day that Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers. Bitter.
Ralph Snyder, VP of Tiger Stadium Operations, aka Dad, managed the iconic park for almost 22 seasons. And he was one excited man after Mike Ilitch announced from the infield that he would spend at least a year studying whether to rebuild the Old Girl or build a new ballpark.
So why was Dad so excited? Well, he was 69 years old, far beyond the age when most would consider retirement, but he saw an opportunity in Mike Ilitch. He could spend the next year working side-by-side with Ilitch, sharing every nook and cranny of the old park.
Dad intended to educate Mr. Ilitch on the overall stability of Tiger Stadium. He planned to outline for him a plan that would include what work would need to be done on the stadium prior to any rebuild. The stadium was deteriorating and Dad knew deep down that the best idea was for the Tigers to consider building a new stadium.
It was Dad’s chance to go out in a manner he would prefer; the proverbial passing of the torch. But you never know what is going to happen when a new owner walks in the door. Business decisions are sometimes seamless, but the transitions can be ugly at the same time.
And Dad was one of many victims. He was fired by the Mike Ilitch family. Well that’s not really true. Ilitch had Tom Monaghan’s management do it. You want bitter? You got bitter.
“The game just never gets out of your blood,” Ilitch said during a news conference on the infield at Tiger Stadium. “You know when you leave that you`re never going to have that same feeling again.”
Truer words were never spoken. Dad would never be the same.
There would be no consideration for a Tiger Stadium rebuild. Ilitch appeared to have already made up his mind. And he didn’t need Dad or many others from the Monaghan management team.
More than 20 front-office employees were fired. And suddenly our family changed. We changed as a family and we changed as fans of the Tigers.
It took winning for us to come around; something that the Tigers did little of during Mike Ilitch’s first 12 years of ownership. But Dad? He took a strange turn along the way.
Wednesday – Part 2: BEYOND THE FAN PERSPECTIVE – ROBBED OF BASEBALL