William Orville DeWitt Sr. (August 3, 1902 – March 4, 1982) was an American professional baseball executive and club owner whose career in Major League Baseball spanned more than 60 years.
DeWitt began his baseball career with the St. Louis Cardinals. His first job was selling soda pop at the Cardinal’s park. He later received a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis and became treasurer of the Redbirds.
In November 1936 DeWitt joined the American League team, the St. Louis Browns as minority owner. He had difficulty promoting the team and increasing attendance based on the Nation League Cardinals popularity and the Great Depression. He traded off veteran players in anticipation of moving the Browns to Los Angeles California. A secret vote on the transfer was scheduled for the week of December 8, the attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7 plunged the U.S into World War II and saved the Browns for St. Louis for several more seasons. DeWitt’s wartime Brown’s were one of the more successful teams in the AL during this time period. This team later moved from St. Louis to become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.
DeWitt served as assistant general manager of the New York Yankees from 1954-1958 and as president and general manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1959-1960.
In late 1960 DeWitt replaced Gabe Paul as GM of the Cincinnati Reds. DeWitt is well known for making a number of deals for players and catapulting the 1960 8th place Reds to win the 1961 National League Pennant. The Reds lost the World Series to the infamous 1960 Yankee team in 5 games. A few months later DeWitt again became team owner when he purchased 100 percent of the Reds from the Powel Crosley Estate.
He led the Reds for another 5 seasons. The Reds contended for most of that time and enjoyed a productive farm system. It was written that DeWitt sold off key components of the 1964 team in anticipation of relocating the franchise. 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. In Robinson’s first season with the Orioles, he won the Triple Crown and was voted the American League MVP.
The Robinson deal somewhat clouded DeWitt’s Cincinnati legacy, although many of the players he had signed or developed became key member of the teams “Big Red Machine”. He sold the Reds to a syndicate led by Enquirer publisher Francis L. Dale (and including son, William DeWitt Jr.).
DeWitt’s last official post in baseball was as chairman of the Chicago White Sox from 1975-1981. He died in Cincinnati of undisclosed causes on March 4, 1982 at the age of 79.