To old family friend, DeWitt, Baltimore are a perfect fit

John Steadman

June 28, 1993|By John Steadman

From a man who knew William DeWitt Jr. "before he was even born" comes the highest personal and professional approval. DeWitt, of course, is standing in line as the original bidder for the purchase of the Baltimore Orioles franchise in what suddenly has turned into an unseemly auction sale.

Would-be buyers are coming out of the right-field bleachers. Tennis players, authors, appliance salesmen and lawyers have made their pitches in an effort to become involved with buying the club.

DeWitt heads a group of businessmen, some from Baltimore, interested in the purchase of the Orioles. That he was born in St. Louis and now lives in Cincinnati has given him the unfair stigma of being classified as some kind of an ogre and unfit to head a team in Baltimore.

Actually, DeWitt's ties to the Orioles are in the family genes. His father, Bill DeWitt Sr., owned the St. Louis Browns and sold them to Bill Veeck two years before they were transferred to Baltimore in 1954 to become the Orioles. In fact, via terms of the sale agreement, DeWitt was in the employ of the Baltimore club.

It was DeWitt Sr., the record shows, who first wanted to make Baltimore a major-league city. He originally opened the talks that led to the Browns' coming to Baltimore. He visited here to inspect the early rebuilding of Memorial Stadium to make certain it met all the basic standards. He also wanted to provide the Orioles, then of the International League, with a major-league identity.

But what about his son, Bill DeWitt Jr., a 51-year-old graduate of Yale and the Harvard Business School? The source of PTC comprehensive scouting report on DeWitt comes from Arthur Richman, a former sportswriter, then longtime public relations director of the New York Mets and now a senior vice president of the New York Yankees.

"Here's what I can tell you about young Bill," said Richman. "He's not a pushy type, not a meddler. I know enough about him and what Baltimore is like to know it would be a perfect match. I hope Baltimore gets lucky and DeWitt owns the Orioles. When you talk of integrity and being high class, I think of Bill. I don't know a bad thing about him."

Do the DeWitts come from an affluent background?

"No. How could he?" answered Richman. "After all, his father owned the Browns. Bill Sr. started with the St. Louis Cardinals in a concession stand. In fact, when Bill Sr. sold the Browns to Veeck, he actually showed me the check. After taxes, it came to a little over $600,000 for the team and the farm clubs, too."

Richman has a story about money and DeWitt Jr., who came to New York to visit while a student, and did the natural thing boys have been doing since time began when experiencing a cash flow problem. He called home. But his father advised he go see their friend, Art Richman at the New York Daily Mirror, and get an out-of-pocket loan to hold him over.

"His dad thought it would be quicker that way," explains Richman. "The boy shows up in the sports department and tells me what he needs and that his father sent him. But you know how newspaper guys are. I had all of $4. I was embarrassed because that wasn't going to take him very far in New York. So he had to call home again and the money was wired right away. We talked about the incident the last time we were together, along with his wife, Kathy, a lovely girl, when the three of us were at the Hall of Fame banquet in New York."

Richman went back to talking about DeWitt Sr., who, after the Cardinals and Browns, was affiliated with the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and owned the Cincinnati Reds. "The reason the Yankees hired him was so he could succeed George Weiss as general manager. But, and a lot of people don't know this, Weiss changed his mind about retiring. Bill couldn't push Weiss out the door, so he made the best of the situation."

Young DeWitt, according to Richman, would be good for Baltimore because (1) he has a name both respected and recognized in baseball; (2) possesses inherent integrity; and (3) has the background in business, plus a kinship to the game, to provide quality leadership.

Bill DeWitt Jr., meanwhile, waits on the decision to own a team he started off trying to buy 10 months ago. He made the opening pitch. The next call will be by the umpire (no, the judge) in bankruptcy court, who is processing the financial affairs of Eli Jacobs, the present owner.

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