The Midas Touch

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. has a knack for making money without risking his own. Meet the guy who wants you to cough up $250 million for a new stadium.

The family maintains roots in St. Louis, where his sister Donna "DeDe" DeWitt Lambert, a minority team owner, lives. DeWitt, who catches about half the Cardinal home games, stays with her or his son when he's in town. The ties are strong enough that the family held a memorial service here for the senior DeWitt when he died in 1982.


Those who know Bill DeWitt Jr. describe a classic Midwestern gentleman: honest, smart, polite, wealthy but not ostentatious. Funny, not flamboyant. Generous. Relentlessly positive. Completely committed to his four children and wife, Kathy, a high-school sweetheart he dated through college.

St. Louis Cardinals owners Bill DeWitt (left) and Fred Hanser gave Fernando Tatis a gold Rolex for being the first major-leaguer to hit two grand slams in one inning in 1999. This offseason, they gave Tatis his walking papers.
Tim Parker/Reuters
St. Louis Cardinals owners Bill DeWitt (left) and Fred Hanser gave Fernando Tatis a gold Rolex for being the first major-leaguer to hit two grand slams in one inning in 1999. This offseason, they gave Tatis his walking papers.

And, ultimately, an enigma to all but his close circle. He's clearly amused that no one seems to know what really makes him tick. "Maybe you'll never find out," he chuckles.

What kind of music does he like? "He's not much of a music guy," answers DeWitt III. "We as kids would always pretty much have full reign over the radio. He never had a big opinion one way or another." Well, not quite. "Generally rock," DeWitt says. Silence. Any groups stand out? "Well, I mean, I was in the '60s era in college. In the progression of all, that is what I like. I like a lot of music. I like music in general." What's the last book he read? He can't recall a title. "I'm not a huge book reader. I read a lot of current stuff like magazines and newspapers and sports stuff and sports sections. To the extent I read a book, it's a historical book."

He doesn't ruffle at difficult questions, and if he's offended, he doesn't say so. Check out what Pete Rose thinks about my dad, he says, and you'll get a different perspective than Frank Robinson's. Informed that Rose last year told Playboy that his father once ordered Rose not to associate with black players, DeWitt, hardly the Playboy-reading sort, professes shock. "I can't imagine that," he says. "I know Pete. At least, he always told me that he thought a lot of my father and my mother."

As a second interview wraps up, DeWitt starts asking questions. "Do you get to many ballgames yourself?" he wants to know. "Are you married?" What do you think of St. Louis as a place to live? It's as if this man with so much power, wealth and responsibility has all the time in the world to talk, and it doesn't come off as contrived. Never interrupting, he seems genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, every bit the "Call me Bill" guy his family and friends say he is.

Almost humble, in fact. DeWitt III recalls attending a concert at the MCI Center in Washington during George W. Bush's inauguration. He was eager to speak with the new president, and with just 20 or so people in the private box, now was his chance. "I was talking to my dad, and Bush was up there with Laura," the younger DeWitt says. "He said, 'You know, kind of lay low, if you would. He's kind of getting sick of the hounding.' And I said, 'That's fine.'"

And so the son of the president's key fundraiser, the man who made the party possible, bided his time. "It turns out Bush came up to my wife and said, 'Hey, I remember you from last summer' -- he'd come to the house and done a fundraiser," DeWitt III continues. "By being tactful about some of these things, I think, people sense that and are more likely to engage you in ways you might not otherwise have gotten if you were right out there saying, 'Hey, let's do the picture, let's get the autograph kind of thing.'" Kind of like the African proverb: It's the most patient lion that gets the wildebeest. The son laughs at the comparison.

"That's a good one," he says. "I'm not sure it's on his desk as a slogan, but it certainly would be appropriate."

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