Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Schott takes seat in the back




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Marge Schott is going nowhere fast. She is supposed to be seeking a buyer for her ballclub, but the sale moves so slowly it suggests a white elephant with arthritis.

        The outcast owner of the Cincinnati Reds continues to finesse baseball's feeble efforts to force her out. Schott knows a spineless commissioner when she sees one, and she has been smart enough to stop giving Bud Selig any new reasons to build backbone.

        Selig has already extended Schott's sale deadline once, from Dec. 31 to March 31, and he could prolong the sale process indefinitely if there are no new suitors or fresh crises to confront.

        “I don't think she has any intention to do anything,” one member of the Reds partnership said Tuesday. “Marge learned her lesson from Andy Jackson. He told his cabinet, "The Supreme Court has ruled against us. Now let's see them enforce it.'”

        Given Schott's limited grasp of history — “Hitler was good in the beginning, but then he went too far.” — she might have difficulty distinguishing between Old Hickory and pine tar. Yet she has evidently realized the wisdom of pressing her advantage with the Czar of Milwaukee. She can continue to call Selig's bluff so long as she does not force his hand.

        Accordingly, she has lately avoided the sort of silly squabbles and short-sighted spending that made the Reds a laughingstock and the largest money-loser in sports (according to Financial World magazine). Schott proved no barrier to the Reds' acquisition of Greg Vaughn, and Monday acquiesced to the slugging outfielder's desire to keep his goatee by rescinding the Reds' outdated policy on facial hair. She is holding her ground by getting out of the way.

Credit Allen, Bowden
        If Schott has not fully accepted her role as a figurehead, neither is she much of an obstacle any more. With her role essentially limited to ceremonial appearances and approving budgets, the management team of John Allen and Jim Bowden has returned the Reds to profitability and dramatically improved their competitive outlook. Instead of assigning blame, we are now apportioning credit.

        In announcing the Vaughn trade on Feb. 2, Bowden made a point of thanking “ownership” for its support of the bold initiative. The reference was broad enough to include Schott, but it was also aimed at limited partners Carl Lindner, Bill Reik and George Strike, who now serve as a sounding board on major moves.

        Since they own no equity in the franchise, Bowden and Allen are obliged to consult investors before putting their money at risk. This was always arduous with the capricious Schott in charge, for she might block a trade out of affection for a player's wife, or slash the scouting budget because she could not comprehend player development.

        But now, with Schott's powers greatly diminished and the limiteds gaining influence, sound business practices usually prevail. The home team finished fourth in the National League Central last season, eight games below .500, and yet progress is palpable and the faith of their fans is renewed.

        Philosophically stuck in the '70s for nearly two decades, the Reds now make the Bengals look as backward as a buggy whip.

Baseball doesn't want suit
        With her team on the rise and her ballpark project proceeding, Schott would be crazy to cash in her chips at this point. Even some of those who ardently want her out acknowledge the value of her shares is in flux. Were Selig determined to force a sale, he would still be hard-pressed to dictate the price.

        Because the prospect of litigation terrifies baseball, Selig and Co. may be disposed to let Schott's partnership agreement lapse on Dec. 31, 2000 rather than risk open conflict. If she can continue to hold her tongue, she might continue to hold 61/2 of the Reds' 15 shares.

        “I don't care if she owns 42% of the Reds,” one club source said. “I care if she makes the decision about if we have scouting in the Dominican.”

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE