It's time for Schott to step aside

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Leave Marge Schott her shares of stock. Reserve her front-row seats. Preserve her prime parking spot. Protect her investment.

Permit the Cincinnati Reds' president to remain a figurehead for the local baseball franchise. Encourage her to shun the media. Insist that she permanently abdicate her management position with the ballclub. Make her swear she won't sue.

As baseball negotiates a sentencing settlement with its No. 1 Public Enemy, these should be the bottom lines. Instead of another sham suspension, baseball's executive council should leave Schott a ceremonial position while removing her capacity to create havoc. Let Schott be seen as the Reds' harmless eccentric and cease to be its hateful embarrassment.

Baseball can survive Schott as a loose cannon, so long as she is not also a top gun. Her continuing ethnic slurs will likely lead to a lengthy suspension - no later than next Wednesday - but it is still conceivable Schott could cut a better deal simply by becoming a semi-silent partner.

The key question now is whether Marge can live with a lesser role.

It is emotion and not reason that rules the Reds' president. If she acted logically, she would never have allowed her payroll to spiral to $40 million while maintaining bargain-rate tickets. She would have cut her losses these last three seasons long before they devoured her stockpiled cash. She would have behaved as a responsible executive instead of a capricious clown.

She continues to operate at a substantial deficit, it appears, because it makes her popular with her public. Many Reds fans are openly grateful that Schott's ticket prices remain within reach, and they appreciate the quality of the product she has put on the field. They do not seem to recognize that a reckoning is inevitable.

At stake: Her identity

Some day soon, the Reds will be obliged to trim their payroll, raise their prices or both. Otherwise, Schott could be forced to cover losses out of her own pocket. At that stage, suspension might not seem such a bad alternative.

Associates insist Schott intends to fight baseball through the courts to maintain her control of the franchise, but this would hardly seem worth her while. The Reds' partnership agreement expires in 1999, and their new stadium may not be ready until the year 2000. Balancing the books till then could be a formidable feat.

So why does Schott persist? Because she prizes her position with the Cincinnati Reds far beyond its economic value. It has made her a prominent figure, and provided her with power and prestige that no amount of automobiles could supply.

The Reds are not only Schott's property, but her identity. They have brought her an invitation to the White House, a guest spot on David Letterman, and a mirror-cracking cover of Sports Illustrated. If it weren't for the Reds, Marge Schott would be a local curiosity instead of a national celebrity. If she chooses to take baseball to court, it will be for her fame, not her fortune.

Not worth the fight

Friends have urged Schott to step down. They have told her it is time to find sanctuary from the harsh scrutiny. They wonder why she can not be content to sign autographs for fawning fans, to lend her support to worthy causes, to relax and enjoy the wonders of wealth. They fear she is determined to fight.

She can not be removed for mismanagement. Whatever mistakes she has made in day-to-day decision-making, they compare favorably to most of her fellow owners. Both financially and artistically, the Reds have been more successful under Schott's administration than most of their major-league rivals. Their recent red ink and their organizational erosion are hardly more severe than those suffered by Bud Selig's Milwaukee Brewers.

Schott will be hard-pressed, however, to defend her careless comments against baseball's justifiable concerns over adverse publicity and disaffected fans, to say nothing of its anti-trust exemption.

From here, she looks cornered. A good place to cut a deal.

Published June 6, 1996.