BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Cincinnati Reds' game plan is in place. It is the game planners who are in limbo.
The people who have mapped the home team's TripTik to 2002 are thinking long term but signed short term. They are trying to build a new foundation for the franchise when they might be more concerned about keeping a roof over their heads.
John Allen's tenure as managing executive would likely cease should Marge Schott regain control of the ball club in October. General Manager Jim Bowden has one year to run on his contract but is the subject of speculation in both Baltimore and Los Angeles. Manager Jack McKeon has been offered a new deal, but only for next season.
Insecurity abounds. Rumors fly. Baseball's great experiment in usurping ownership has created a management structure with the stability of straw.
This might work in New York or Los Angeles, where mistakes can often be outspent, but it is not conducive to the kind of effort that must be expended in tight-budget towns like Cincinnati. If the Reds are to sacrifice short-term success for the sake of a distant future, their decision-makers ought to be reassured that they are not lame ducks. Now that his own position has been made permanent, Commissioner Bud Selig owes it to baseball's oldest professional team to clarify its future.
If Schott's suspension is to be extended beyond the final out of the World Series, Selig should say so. If Schott is to be forced to sell her interests in the ball club, Selig should say so. If Schott is to be allowed to regain day-to-day authority over the Reds, Selig should warn her employees so that they might ready their resumes.
Any buyers out there?
Instead, the commissioner rules by inertia, forcing Reds employees to guess at his intent and his resolve as the days before Schott's inevitable reckoning dwindle.
Privately, some vague promises have been made to some key executives, but these promises do nothing to fortify the Cincinnati franchise. To tell a man he'll be taken care of in a worst-case scenario is not the same as telling him to whom he'll be reporting three months down the road.
Have the Reds been cutting payroll to make the team more attractive to a potential buyer? If so, why has no potential buyer been by to examine the books?
Is Selig determined to extend Schott's probation through the end of the Reds' partnership agreement (Dec. 31, 2000)? If so, why did he not seize the opportunity upon discovery of Schott's elaborate efforts to defraud General Motors?
To affect outrage over Schott's duplicity at this late date would be outrageous. To trump up other charges would be transparent. Still, to expect more of baseball leadership would be optimism tantamount to the Cubs selling World Series tickets.
Foot-dragging must end
Presumably, baseball wants Schott's status resolved before Sept. 1, when off-the-field news is supposed to be stifled in deference to the pennant races. Clearly, Selig cannot drag his feet indefinitely. The World Series could end as early as Oct. 21 this year, which means Schott's exile could be over in 77 days.
Given the continuing uncertainty over the site for a new ballpark, and the impact of that ballpark on franchise value, it is almost inconceivable that Schott could be induced to sell before her suspension expires.
Yet given baseball's aversion to litigation, and Selig's tendency to rule by consensus rather than conviction, it is also difficult to imagine baseball doing anything definitive.
Marge Schott's suspension has served to make decisions more complicated, progress more elusive and enabled the National Football League to gain stadium priority in what was once thought to be a baseball town. Schott probably deserved her punishment, but Reds fans did not.
Bud Selig's mission this month should be to seek a more permanent solution. He should either get the Reds a new owner or restore the old one. Leaving Marge Schott in limbo does no one any good.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.