Clancy, DeWitt form odd couple of O's owners

October 05, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

One is the son of a Baltimore mailman whose love for baseball began and seemingly ended with Little League, only to have the flame rekindled when he bought season tickets four years ago for one of his children. The other is the son of a former major-league baseball owner, a man who has been around the game for as long as he can remember.

But best-selling novelist Tom Clancy and Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr. now have something in common: They are limited partners in the Orioles, representing an estimated $25 million of the $173 million investment paid by the ownership group formed by Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos in August and approved yesterday by Major League Baseball.

"This is a pretty unique experience for me," Clancy said before the afternoon news conference at Camden Yards to introduce the new owners. "I've done nothing remotely close to this in my lifetime."

It is a remarkably familiar role for DeWitt. Baseball has been a constant in DeWitt's life since his late father, William Sr., owned the St. Louis Browns from 1948 to 1952 and the Cincinnati Reds from 1961 to 1966. DeWitt Jr. had to divest his minority ownership in the Texas Rangers.

For DeWitt, it was a long-awaited homecoming to a franchise that began as the Browns.

"Clearly, it was a motivating factor," said DeWitt, who holds the distinction of going from being a club's batboy to its owner in a later incarnation. "Just the reassociation with the franchise means a great deal."

Clancy is coming from an altogether different direction. DeWitt's investment group was initially a competitor of Angelos' until they were brought together at the Orioles' auction in a New York courtroom Aug. 2, but Clancy's relationship with Angelos began as fellow trustees at Loyola College. Their initial discussions revolved around a common interest in becoming part of a group to bring professional football back to Baltimore.

With his military interests that led to best-selling novels, Clancy's passion seemed more for football.

"He has a very soft spot for football," Clancy's financial adviser, Fred Arscott, said yesterday. "But the economic opportunities that presented themselves for him in football compared to what they were for him in baseball didn't make as much sense."

Unlike his investment in the Orioles -- which was initially reported at $14 million, but could be as high as $20 million, according to sources close to the ownership group -- Clancy's love for baseball only recently was renewed after several decades.

"What got me back into baseball was my kids," said Clancy, who lives with his wife, Wanda, and their four children on a 300-acre estate in Calvert County. "In 1989, one of my daughters asked for season tickets to Memorial Stadium. It was a lot cheaper than buying her clothes. They dragged me back into it, and I started to like baseball again."

Asked if he planned any novels with baseball themes, Clancy said: "It's kind of hard to do an interesting thriller with baseball since there's no prospect of a war with Canada."

If you listened to Clancy and DeWitt, as well as to Angelos, there's no prospect that the two most prominent limited partners will get in each other's way. Clancy likely will play a more significant role in the business side while DeWitt will have a say in baseball-related decisions.

"Diversity is a healthy part of any successful business," said Clancy. "I think it's a healthy thing for this franchise."

Clancy wouldn't be specific about his role, but said: "I won't get into uniform and shag fly balls with the young guys." DeWitt said he considers himself a consultant to Angelos because "I've been around the game."

Angelos said Clancy would be "involved in community and charity decisions," adding, "I value his judgment and business acumen." The majority owner said DeWitt would accompany him to the baseball winter meetings later this year as a liaison to the baseball community and an adviser on potential acquisitions.

At yesterday's news conference, Clancy, wearing his trademark sunglasses, shared the stage with Angelos and Gov. William Donald Schaefer. DeWitt sat among the other, less prominent investors facing the stage. In terms of the roles they will play, DeWitt said, there was no significance to the arrangement.

"The whole thing today was that it's Baltimore-controlled, Baltimore-owned," said DeWitt. "Together with the fact that Tom's investment was substantially larger than mine, it's a day for the locals."

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