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LOVERRO: World Series owners Lucchino, DeWitt might have changed Orioles’ history
Question of the Day
Boston Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino and St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt are good friends who will be facing each other for the second time in the World Series. The first one came back in 2004, when neither one had a World Series championship to call their own.
Now each has two. Whoever wins this one will have the edge — three World Series titles compared to two.
That’s five total between the two owners over the last 11 seasons. That’s a pretty good track record.
Imagine if they were partners in the same franchise. “We would have made a pretty good team,” Lucchino once told me in an interview.
Lucchino was one a fixture on the sports landscape here in the Baltimore-Washington area. He was legendary Washington trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams’ right-hand man in his sports operations, He was general counsel for the Redskins when Williams owned the team and took the same role when Williams purchased the Orioles in 1979, later rising to team president.
He stayed in that role when Williams died in 1988 and Eli Jacobs purchased the team. But when Jacobs, who was facing bankruptcy, was forced to put the franchise up for sale, Lucchino put a deal together to become the owners — and brought in Bill DeWitt as his partner.
DeWitt grew up in a baseball family. His father, Bill Sr., worked for the Cardinals and would own the St. Louis Browns and the Cincinnati Reds, where he once traded an outfielder who he thought was washed up at the age of 30 to the Orioles — Frank Robinson.
The son entered the baseball business as a part owner of both the Reds and the Texas Rangers, along with George W. Bush. But DeWitt wanted more of a voice in running a team, and he had that chance when the Orioles were put up for sale. With Lucchino having the inside track, it seemed like a done deal.
“Bill and I both went to spring training thinking we had a team,” Lucchino told me.
But when Jacobs filed for bankruptcy before the deal was finalized, a judge killed it and the team was put up for sale to the highest bidder. Lucchino and DeWitt still were optimistic they would prevail, but a Baltimore lawyer who claimed he wanted the team to remain in the hands of local ownership entered the bidding and changed the history of the Orioles.
With an August bankruptcy sale looming in a New York courtroom, there were four as the bankruptcy bidders — DeWitt, Angelos, former Redskins tight end Jean Fugett (chief operating officer of the Beatrice Corp.) and New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria. (Loria later purchased the Montreal Expos and then the Florida Marlins in a deal that allowed then-Marlins owner John Henry to join a group with Lucchino to buy the Red Sox.)
Before the bankruptcy auction began, Lucchino made a deal for DeWitt and Angelos to form a partnership and purchased the team for $173 million — $1 million more than Loria. If DeWitt had not partnered with Angelos, Loria may have wound up as the Orioles owner.
DeWitt held a press conference the day after he and Angelos purchased the team and said he would be the franchise’s “baseball man” when it would come time to sign free agents and make trades. He said he looked forward to a “more active role” in baseball than his minority ownership in Texas. Lucchino believed he was part of that more active role as well.
They became partners again in a bid to buy the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Lucchino dropped out of that venture to join John Moores in his deal to purchase the San Diego Padres from television executive Tom Werner (now a partner with Lucchino in the Red Sox ownership). Dewitt got the chance to own his hometown team when he purchased the Cardinals in 1996.
Since then, both men have made their respective franchises among the most successful in baseball. Lucchino, the mastermind behind Camden Yards and who got the new ballpark in San Diego built, has saved Fenway Park through creative refurbishing. DeWitt oversaw the development of a new Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
“In hindsight, I’m glad that Baltimore didn’t work out,” he told me.
He is not likely the first person to have said that.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com
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About the Author
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