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Ilitch says he's running out of time to turn Tigers around


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DETROIT ? (AP) ? Tigers owner Mike Ilitch knows success takes time: It took 15 years after he bought the Detroit Red Wings before the team won its first Stanley Cup.


But after owning the Tigers for 13 years and enduring 12 straight losing seasons, Ilitch concedes even his patience is running low.


"I'm running out of time with the Tigers ? we're in our 13th year,'' Ilitch said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "If we hit the 15-year mark, I'll be very concerned.''


Ilitch, whose business empire began with the Little Caesars pizza chain, said he got off to a bad start with the Tigers when he failed to hire the right general manager.


After buying the team in 1992 from fellow pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's, in Ilitch tried but failed to lure back Bill Lajoie, who built the Tigers' championship team of 1984. So Ilitch retained Jerry Walker, a former scout, for more than a year before replacing him in 1994 with another scout, Joe Klein. Randy Smith was GM from 1996-2002.


Ilitch said Lajoie's refusal combined with his own lack of contacts in the sport at the time led to a bad hiring decision.


"I went through some people, and I think I've got the right person now,'' he said of Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski. Hired away from the Florida Marlins to replace Ilitch as team president in November 2001, Dombrowski has two years left on his contract.


In 2002, Dombrowski's first season with the Tigers, the team went 55-106. That same year, the Red Wings clinched their 10th Stanley Cup and third in six years.


"I got a good start with the Red Wings,'' Ilitch said. "With the Tigers, I didn't make a good judgment call.''


Another reason success has been so elusive is the lack of an adequate farm system when he took over, Ilitch said.


Ilitch, who in October hired his seventh manager, Jim Leyland, suggested he was holding out hope that next season will be a turning point. The Tigers finished the year at 71-91, one fewer victory than they had the previous season.


"If we can make a significant improvement this year, then I can treat it like I treated the Red Wings, and that would be, "OK, you've shown me something now, we are legitimate contenders, so whatever you need you're going to get.' But you've got to work yourself up to that,'' he said. "We've got a lot of tradition and we've got a lot of baseball fans out there just waiting for something good for the city and baseball.''

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