Sunday, November 16, 1997
Did Marge sign away citizenship?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Baseball stinks.

Not the game, which is still a lot of fun to play and to watch. The institutional monopoly. The great big business run by people who think they're too good for Pete Rose, now that he can't do anything for them.

This all-American pastime behaves as though the rules that apply to the rest of America are not good enough for them: free enterprise, freedom of speech, free exchange of ideas in the media.

Last week, National League President Leonard S. Coleman hit Marge Schott with a ''substantial fine,'' reportedly $10,000, for talking about the Reds' stadium location. Mrs. Schott is lucky Major League Baseball doesn't have its own jail. She'd be eating her food off a metal tray.

Major league muzzle

According to the terms of her two-year suspension, she must get permission to do interviews and conduct them in the presence of a Reds official. I think my feelings are hurt. When did we become the enemy? And why should organized baseball be allowed to orchestrate the news?

Are they trying to protect her from us or us from her? Either way, it's patronizing and arrogant. And completely outrageous for a business that wants hundreds of millions of public dollars.

The Reds CEO said last Sunday that she wouldn't mind playing in a renovated Cinergy Field. She told the Enquirer's Geoff Hobson that she doesn't think taxpayers should have to pay for two new stadiums now that the price tag for the Bengals stadium has reached $400 million.

''I just don't know how the taxpayers can pay for two new ones,'' she said. ''We'd be paying for it forever. I'm a taxpayer, too.'' For these dangerous and provocative words, Mrs. Schott was punished. Yeah, I know, she's not supposed to talk without a chaperone. But Major League Baseball, which pretty much does exactly as it pleases, could have looked the other way.

She only said what a lot of other people - citizens and taxpayers - have been thinking. Taxpayers are weary of being told we're going to have to make do with ramshackle school buildings, but we have to go first class - world class - when it comes to sports palaces.

Mrs. Schott is said to have undermined the Reds negotiating position. Good. If her opinion gives the county more leverage, maybe she saved us a few million bucks. If we'd known more about the Bengals deal before it was signed, maybe we wouldn't have been so thoroughly fleeced.

The guys who run Major League Baseball don't like Mrs. Schott, and they figure nobody else does either. So they probably think they can cuff her around any time they please. They are a private enterprise.

Of course, this is a private enterprise given antitrust exemption by the U.S. government. And it is a private enterprise that uses public money and public space. So, I wonder if an attorney could make a case that baseball isn't really as private as it thinks it is.

Call the ACLU

Maybe instead of forking over the fine, Mrs. Schott should invest it in a good civil rights attorney. Somebody like Al Gerhardstein. Surely a guy brave enough to defend the rights of the inmates at Lucasville would take a look at the rights of one elderly citizen with loose lips.

Perhaps there are First Amendment issues. Maybe Lou Sirkin, who proved we were grown up enough to see the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, could convince a jury that we are grown up enough to hear what Mrs. Schott has to say.

If all else fails, this woman who is a CEO without any executive powers, could consult with the American Civil Liberties Union. They specialize in lost causes.

As for the those privileged men who run Major League Baseball, we should remind them that if they want our money they could at least pretend to have some respect for us.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.