Thursday, October 28, 2004

Indian Hill's DeWitt savoring World Series

Cliff Peale

Bill DeWitt may or may not be the most successful businessman in Cincinnati.

But this week, he was probably the happiest.

The Indian Hill resident, with an office just a pitching wedge away from Great American Ball Park, also is the lead owner of the St. Louis Cardinals. His destinations the last three weeks - St. Louis, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston - mirror the Cardinals' march into the World Series.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Cardinals had dropped the first three games to the Boston Red Sox, putting them one loss away from the end of the season. But DeWitt, 63, isn't dwelling on that.

The son of former Reds owner Bill DeWitt Sr., he has been in baseball since before he can remember. His first baseball memory was meeting Babe Ruth in 1947. Now, in his first World Series as an owner, he is living a dream.

"It couldn't be more fun," DeWitt said by phone from St. Louis this week. "It's hectic, but it's the hectic you want to have."

DeWitt's investment-banking firm, built over decades with partner Mercer Reynolds, owns stakes in plenty of well-known Greater Cincinnati companies.

From regional Arby's restaurants to Buddy's Carpet & Flooring to the Newport Aquarium, the group is a profit machine.

But DeWitt admits he spends the bulk of his time with his first love: baseball.

I can hear the Reds fans now, bemoaning the fate of their hometown team while a Cincinnatian takes another mid-market team to the promised land.

Why, they ask, can't the Reds do what the Cardinals have proven can be done?

"That's a hard question to answer," said DeWitt, who has owned the Cardinals for nine years. "I think Cincinnati's doing the right thing. They're growing homegrown talent. And when they reach a point when they're able to compete, they'll do what they need to do to get it over the top.

"They know what they're doing in Cincinnati. They're doing a good job."

Of course, the two franchises aren't on equal footing now. St. Louis is a top-echelon revenue team with a payroll of $87 million this year after trading for star hitter Larry Walker in mid-season. They won a Major League Baseball-best 105 games.

The Reds payroll was $46 million. They won 76 games.

But DeWitt chooses the long view. He remembers 1997, when the Cardinals acquired star first baseman Mark McGwire and then signed him to a long-term deal. The next year, McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation with their epic home-run chase, and a golden era in St. Louis began.

He points to Ken Griffey's injuries since the Reds traded for him in 2000.

"When they got Griffey, I thought the same thing would happen in Cincinnati," DeWitt said. "But injuries are one thing you can't predict."

With a new ballpark scheduled for 2006, the Cardinals' future is bright. But this week, DeWitt was focused on the World Series.

"I enjoy it while it lasts because I've been around long enough to know this is not to be expected," he said. "It's to be enjoyed while it occurs. So I'm just going to enjoy it while it's happening."


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