DeWitt began his baseball career with the Cardinals as a protégé of Branch Rickey, legendary business manager (later general manager) of the Redbirds from 1916-1942. DeWitt's first job, in 1916, was selling soda pop at the Cardinals' park; as a young man, he became treasurer of the Redbirds. But DeWitt ultimately took a front-office job with the city’s underdog American League team, the St. Louis Browns, where he rose to general manager, minority owner and, finally, majority owner.
William Orville DeWitt
* Born August 3, 1902 in St. Louis, MO USA
* Died March 3, 1982 in Cincinnati, OH USA
Bill DeWitt started out selling soda in Sportsman's Park. When Branch Rickey needed an office boy, he asked the manager of the ballpark to send up a "bright youngster", so the manager sent up 14-year old DeWitt. DeWitt followed Rickey from the St. Louis Browns to the St. Louis Cardinals doing office work after school and summers. DeWitt would become a full time employee and attend night school. He attended Saint Louis University and Washington University in Saint Louis eventually passing the Missouri Bar exam in 1931. DeWitt became the club treasurer, then became business manager for Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin.
In 1936, DeWitt organized a group to buy the St. Louis Browns and became the vice president-general manager. In 1949, Bill and his brother Charles bought the total holdings of the Browns. The DeWitts sold the team to Bill Veeck in 1951, but Bill signed a five-year deal to stay with the team as vice president. He stayed with the team when they moved to Baltimore.
Making an impact in Detroit
DeWitt then served as assistant general manager of the New York Yankees from 1954–58 and as president and general manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1959-60. As Tigers' GM, DeWitt participated in three significant trades with swap-happy Cleveland Indians GM Frank Lane during the 1960 season.
* On April 12, he swung one of the most successful deals in Tiger history, obtaining future star first baseman Norm Cash for little-used infielder Steve Demeter. Cash would win the 1961 AL batting title and play 15 years in Detroit.
* Then, five days later on April 17, DeWitt traded reigning AL batting champion Harvey Kuenn (who hit .353 in 1959) to the Indians for '59 AL home run king (with 42 homers) Rocky Colavito. Colavito played four seasons in Detroit, and continued to hit home runs, smashing 139 round-trippers (an average of almost 35 home runs per season). Kuenn, meanwhile, spent only one year in Cleveland and never again hit above .308.
* Finally, on August 3, DeWitt and Lane completed the only trade of managers in MLB annals, when the Tigers' Jimmy Dykes was dealt for Cleveland's Joe Gordon. But Gordon only lasted the final weeks of the 1960 campaign, going 26-31 with the Tigers before his resignation.
Another pennant, then ownership of the Reds
DeWitt, however, moved on himself shortly after the end of the 1960 season, replacing Gabe Paul as GM of the Cincinnati Reds. He made a number of deals for players such as Joey Jay (a disappointment with the Milwaukee Braves who became a 20-game winner in Cincinnati), Don Blasingame and Gene Freese, and the Reds went on to win the 1961 National League pennant. A few months later, DeWitt again became an owner when he purchased 100 percent of the Reds from the Powel Crosley estate.
He led the team for another five seasons. The Reds contended for most of that time, and enjoyed a productive farm system, but after the 1965 campaign, DeWitt controversially (and disastrously) traded future Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson to the Orioles for two pitchers and a minor league outfielder; the outrage over the trade made it difficult for one of the pitchers, former Oriole ace Milt Pappas, to adjust to pitching in Cincinnati. (The trade has been made famous in the 1988 movie Bull Durham, where Susan Sarandon's character says, "Bad trades are a part of baseball; I mean who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God's sake?") After announcing the trade, DeWitt famously defended the trade by calling Robinson "an old 30." In his first season with the Orioles, Robinson won the Triple Crown and was unanimously voted the American League Most Valuable Player.
The Robinson deal somewhat clouded DeWitt's Cincinnati legacy, although many of the players he had signed or developed became key members of the team's "Big Red Machine" dynasty of the 1970s. He sold the Reds to a syndicate led by Cincinnati newspaper publisher Francis L. Dale (and including William DeWitt Jr.) during the 1966 campaign. DeWitt's last official post in baseball was as chairman of the Chicago White Sox from 1975 to 1981, working with the flamboyant Veeck once again.
He died in Cincinnati, Ohio, of undisclosed causes on March 4, 1982 at age 79.
His son, Bill DeWitt Jr., is the current owner of the Cardinals.By BR Bullpen
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- Bill DeWitt Jr., Bill Veeck, Branch Rickey, Charles DeWitt, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, MLB Owner, New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns, St. Louis Cardinals