Of course, the elder Eddie DeBartolo wasn't even Eddie DeBartolo until high school. He was born Anthony Paonessa in May of 1909, two months after his father died of pneumonia. His mother, Rose Villani, married Michael DeBartolo, a Youngstown masonry contractor, when the boy was two. By the time Anthony was 12, he was not only teaching his stepfather to read and write but also handling the man's paving contracts. Soon, the business was flourishing. Anthony admired his stepfather so much that in high school he changed his name to Edward J. DeBartolo, the Edward being for a favorite uncle.
But when an Italian from a tough part of town changes his name, people get suspicious. What was he running from? The Mafia? In those days, "there were all kinds of murderers, thieves and characters," says Eddie Sr. "They had to explain my success with something."
In 1980, Senior wanted to buy the Chicago White Sox but was rejected by commissioner Bowie Kuhn and major league owners. The rumor was that the owners thought DeBartolo had Mafia connections. "Did that hurt?" says Senior. "Damn right it hurt. We could have bought that franchise for $17 million. It's worth $75 million now." Says his son bitterly, " Kuhn was prejudiced. He didn't want us in the league." Kuhn denied this.
The Mafia rumors, though unsubstantiated—the DeBartolo Corp. has been investigated by three state racing boards and the NFL, which found no problems—still dog the DeBartolos. "All I can say is, if we're in the Mafia, we've got to be jerks for working so hard," says Eddie Jr.'s younger sister, Marie York.
Eddie Jr. was born in 1946 and grew up to be not at all like his father. Senior is restrained, the sort of man you lean close to, to hear. Junior is a hugger and kisser, buoyant, vibrant, colorful. In a reception line, Senior makes do with nods and smiles. Junior is on you like you were just freed by Iraq.
Senior lives to work, not the other way around. Nobody at the office can remember seeing him without a tie. There's a tennis court attached to his house, but he has never played on it. He outworks employees 50 years younger. On a recent trip to Florida, he visited nine building sites the first day, seven the next, and was back home in Youngstown that night. He works Saturdays and Sundays, too, and every holiday, including Christmas. Then again, he can keep this kind of schedule. He's only 81.
"I think he goes home at night just to charge his batteries, refuel himself at the nuclear pump, and change points and plugs," says Policy.
Eddie Jr. at least takes vacations. He calls the office 10 times a day, but he takes vacations. He plays golf. "He's got a 16 handicap," says his brother-in-law, Buzz Papalia. "Ten if he doesn't bring his phone." He has a 1,500-acre ranch near Kalispell, Mont. He is a lover of Scotch, dinner checks, the best suite, the nicest table and the finest bottle of Taittinger Arman (he and his Youngstown buddies call it "Armani" for laughs).
Senior is practically allergic to luxury. He lives in the same house he built himself in the 1950s, an unpretentious ranch two minutes from his office. The only things that set it apart from the other houses in the neighborhood are the 24-hour security guard out front and the stretch limousine parked on the side.
Eddie Jr., on the other hand, owns a Bentley, a Jag, two Mercedes, a BMW and a Land Rover. His suits are Italy's finest. One night Frank Cooney, an old friend who writes for the
San Francisco Examiner, accompanied DeBartolo, Policy and a few others on a town-painting. The raucous evening eventually wound up at the bar of a very swank restaurant. "Shots of Fondateur!" DeBartolo bellowed. The news was greeted by roars of approval from everybody in the entourage but Cooney.