Thursday, September 16, 1999

The end of Schott is near, and it's good




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Marge Schott has never been much for telephone manners. She keeps hanging up on baseball's lawyers as if they were calling her to pitch replacement windows.

        She is in no mood to negotiate. She will not be cajoled. If Bud Selig wants the Reds' lame-duck owner to vacate her office at Cinergy Field — and he does — he may need to send someone around in the middle of the night to change the locks.

        Some of the small details surrounding Schott's departure remain unresolved, but the larger obstacles at last have been cleared. Wednesday night, in Cooperstown, N.Y., the Lords of Baseball unanimously approved Schott's sale of controlling interest in the Reds to her previously “limited” partners. A formal closing is scheduled for Oct. 1, when Carl Lindner officially will replace Schott as the figurehead of professional baseball's oldest ballclub.

        To rid themselves of Schott, baseball's owners have embraced Lindner as if he carried compromising photographs of Donald Fehr. No prospective franchise owner in memory has sought approval with more certainty of a rubber stamp. No outgoing owner has been pushed toward the exits with greater enthusiasm.

        It's the end of an error, and the beginning of a curious new chapter. Three members of the Reds' revised ownership group — Lindner, Louise Nippert and the Gannett Co. (owner of The Enquirer) — are worth billions. How much of this wealth is to be invested in the ballclub remains unclear. Whether the new ownership structure can improve on Schott's on-the-field performance is dubious.

Stormy, successful run
        For 15 years, Schott has operated the Reds with a singular lack of logic and a stunning amount of success. She never quite understood the need for scouts or the reason to replenish her farm system, but she spent willingly for established players and hired some good people before she chased most of them away.

        Four times, her teams finished first — including a World Series champion in 1990 — and this season stands to be her sixth second-place finish. Only the Atlanta Braves have been as consistent a part of the pennant race.

        Yet Schott's regime will be remembered more for its turmoil than its triumphs. She has been as crotchety as Grandma Clampett, as delusional as Norma Desmond, as bigoted as Archie Bunker and as unforgettable a character as baseball has produced in decades.

        Schott is the only owner in professional sports who distributes dog hair to promote good luck. She is the only owner sufficiently confused to salute “our troops in the far East” during Desert Storm, or to predict that the Kansas City Royals would be the Reds' chief rival in a season without interleague play. She chased off her most accomplished manager — Davey Johnson — for living with a woman he would later marry. When she wasn't firing her general managers on a whim, she frequently referred to them as “Whatchamadoodle.”

        Schott mixed Yogi Berra's endearing talent for malaprops with a tendency toward ethnic epithets that would make a Skinhead's skin crawl. She disparaged star outfielders with racist slurs, asserted that “only fruits wear earrings” and finally forced baseball to exile her with the claim that, “Hitler was good in the beginning, but he went too far.”

For good of the game
        For the good of the game, Schott had to go. For the good of the Reds, she was stripped of her day-to-day decision-making in 1996 and issued a stern gag order. That it took her three more years to sell the team speaks to Schott's stubbornness. That the team has improved during her exile speaks to the wisdom of trusting experts when ownership's natural inclination is to meddle.

        Had Schott been satisfied with the shadows, she might have owned the Reds for the rest of her life. She could have entrusted the team to John Allen and Jim Bowden, or to their predecessors, but she couldn't subdue her craving for the spotlight.

        The spotlight can be harsh. It revealed Marge Schott for what she is.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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