Looking to the Future, Witt Tries to Get Over a Most Staggering Loss

Times Staff Writer

On the last day of the 1984 season, Mike Witt pitched only the 13th perfect game in major league history. One of his rewards was a kiss from his wife, Lisa, who was unable to hold back the tears as she watched the final outs from a front-row box near the Angels' dugout in Arlington, Tex.

The spectacular victory enabled Witt, who was 24 at the time, to finish his fourth big league season with a 15-11 record, prompting the Angels to respond with a reward of another kind.

Knowing that Witt would be eligible for free agency after the 1986 season, they offered him a contract based both on accomplishment and market potential.

Witt signed for three years at a guaranteed $2,150,000. Incentive provisions brought the total value to $2.9 million.

Then in 1985, he won 13 of his last 17 decisions and finished with a 15-9 record, leading the club in starts, innings pitched and strikeouts.

He also became a father for the first time on Aug. 7, when Lisa gave birth to Kellen Marie.

The Witts seemed to have it all--only to learn in January that they had lost a significant part of it.

About $500,000 worth.

A cool half-million evaporated along with the investments of some 100 other athletes when the real estate division of Technical Equities, a San Jose management and investment company, collapsed amid reportedly suspect leadership.

Pain? Anger? Frustration?

Witt said that he and Lisa experienced all of that, but the bottom line on his emotional ledger is that he must now prepare for a new season. He must try to forget that his financial foundation has crumbled.

"The way I deal with it is to remember that I have two years left on this contract and will be only 27 when it expires," he said.

"I'll still be in my prime as a pitcher and expect to be able to pitch until I'm in my mid-30s.

"I have time to make up for it. I'm not going to be hurt as much as a football player who's 32 or 33. That's the only way I can look at it and not have it affect me when I go out to pitch.

"I can look on it that way and not be quite as worried.

"If I had lost all my money at 35, I'd be pressing. But I've settled into accepting it to the extent that once spring training started I never even thought about it until someone asked me a question about it the other day."

It helps, of course, that Witt is guaranteed $700,000 this year and $850,000 next season. There is also some solace in the fact that he is not alone in his misery.

Former Dodger Don Drysdale reportedly lost $600,000. Bay Area broadcaster Lon Simmons has admitted losing $400,000. A number of current and former Raiders--Dave Casper, Fred Biletnikoff, Mark van Eeghen and Pete Banaszak, among them--reportedly dropped considerable sums, as did golfers Sally Little and Kathy Whitworth, among others.

Some of the details are still being sorted, but this much is known:

--Technical Equities, which reported revenue of $154 million in 1984 and annual revenue gains of 42% over the previous decade, recently filed bankruptcy, citing debts of $52 million. Harry Stern, chief executive officer who was in charge of the real estate wing, also recently resigned and filed bankruptcy.

--A number of investors, among them doctors, lawyers and other professional people, have filed suits charging Technical Equities and/or Stern and/or individuals and companies employed under the Technical Equities umbrella with fraud and mismanagement.

Witt said he hadn't decided yet if he would take legal action. He said he was still hopeful that some of the real estate partnerships could be saved, some of his money retrieved.

The graduate of Anaheim's Servite High said he began investing when he turned pro in 1978. His attorney, Nick Lamprose, worked for Technical Equities until resigning last winter to handle player contracts on his own. Witt said he began to hear bits and pieces on Technical Equities' problems from Lamprose, who was hearing it in a similar way.

"I guess the shock wasn't as great because the news didn't come to me all at once," Witt said. "At one point Lisa said to me, 'I hope they're not trying to steal our money.' I don't think they stole it, but they lost it, it's gone. There was no record of the company ever having lost any money, and now it's a shambles up there. Unbelievable."

Unbelievable but too true.

"I'd strangle the guy who was in charge, but I still have faith in most of the other people," Witt said. "Nick is still my agent, and I still talk with the woman who did my taxes.

"In looking back, I feel that every property (I went into) was a good property, every contract a good contract. But when some of the properties didn't appreciate as fast as the others, they borrowed from the good ones to pay the loans on the bad ones, dragging both down--and 50 or so people along with them.

"The unfortunate thing is that we were just starting to see some gains, and now we're back to zero as far as my investments are concerned. I'm sure there'll come a time when I get to be 45 or 50 and look back that I'll think about the potential $1 million I lost.

"I mean, when you invest as heavily as I did you can expect that kind of appreciation. That's five years of working toward my future that's now gone. I'm mad about that, but I've got a real good chance to recoup."

It must start with his continued consistency on the mound.

Witt's acknowledged ability--many have said that he boasts the American League's best combination of fastball and curve--has been diluted at times by a mystifying breakdown in confidence and concentration, periodically prompting the often sullen Witt to undergo hypnotherapy.

Last year, however, was better than the year before, and now, noting the stand-up approach to his financial setback, there seems to be a continued growth in maturity.

"I've seen what it is to win 15 games and I know I have enough in me to get five more," he said. "That's not to say I want to stop at 20, but 20 is the standard for a pitcher, and I know I have the ability to get there.

"I've done a lot of fine-tuning the last two years, but I still made about 10 starts that were absolutely wasted. I've got to get to the point where 33 of 35 are good ones. I now feel I have the mental base to do it."

He also now has a new approach to investing. Like many athletes before him, he has learned a hard truth.

Witt forced a smile and said: "I don't think I'll ever again invest in anything that's 500 miles away. From now on, I want to be able to see it and touch it."

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