Sunday, February 15, 1997
Reds are ready to play hardball

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PLANT CITY, Fla. - Jim Bowden is urging belligerence. The general manager of the Cincinnati Reds believes the ballclub must sue to regain its standing in stadium matters.

He has taken off the glove, and reached for the bat.

''I have advised Mrs. Schott and John Allen for the last two years to go to court and to file a breach of our lease that will allow us to be treated the same as the Bengals,'' Bowden said Friday afternoon. ''To me, that's apparently the only way of being able to negotiate with the county on the (stadium) site, when they realize that the Reds do have an opportunity to leave Cinergy Field prior to 2010.''

Efforts to steer the Reds away from the riverfront have entered a dangerous period. In his zeal to placate the Bengals, Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus has succeeded in infuriating the Reds. He has signed off on a deal that provides the football team enough riverfront property for three practice fields and then declared the adjoining lot that the Reds covet off-limits for baseball.

Bedinghaus would appear to be playing favorites here (and in inverse order of importance). He may also be playing with dynamite.

Schott uncompromising

Marge Schott wants no part of Broadway Commons, and what began as a matter of preference has become an issue of principle. Schott is just contrary enough to consider bolting for Turfway Park or Warren County or parts unknown if she continues to feel slighted. And she might do it sooner than some people suspect.

The Reds' lease carries a clause that assures them of equal treatment vis-a-vis their co-tenants in shoulder pads. The city of Cincinnati violated that lease when it agreed to provide the Bengals with financial subsidies and an earlier escape clause. Presumably, the Reds are entitled to the same subsidies, and an identical escape clause.

About all that prevents the Reds from making their case in court is that Schott has failed to file the papers which were drawn up nearly two years ago. Given the tide of events, though, litigation is starting to look more likely.

Schott has been preoccupied with other problems while the Bengals were winning the stadium war. She continues to battle major-league baseball for control of her franchise, which is now imperiled by the fallout from her failed attempt to defraud General Motors. She has been conspicuous by her public silence during this span, but the Bengals' deal seems to have revived her fighting spirit.

Moreover, this is one battle she can win.

Room left for Reds to maneuver

In getting the Bengals to agree to a site slightly further west than they would have preferred, the county has left open the land immediately west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. While Bedinghaus and the Broadway Commons crowd might prefer that lot be saved for something else, it is just big enough for a ballpark. It is also exactly where the Reds want to be.

''I've always believed it was the best location economically,'' Bowden said. ''More importantly, I've always thought it was the best location for the city and the county as far as maximizing revenues for the businesses downtown - the hotels, the restaurants.''

That much of the Reds' argument is open to debate, but this much is plain: Because they play 81 home games instead of eight, the Reds are more valuable to downtown than are the Bengals. They should not be relegated to second-class status simply because Mike Brown is smarter than Marge Schott.

Deep down, Bob Bedinghaus surely knows that. Because negotiations are ongoing, the county may simply be playing coy about the Roebling site in order to extract concessions from the Reds, or to cause them to consider a renovated Cinergy Field. Half-truths are as much as one should expect from hard bargaining.

Ultimately, both sides should be able to find common ground. Marge Schott does not want to leave Cincinnati, and Bob Bedinghaus can not afford to let her leave. Most everything else is posturing.