Thursday, February 13, 2003

Morgan trumps Marge

Eating crow off Reds' new home plates


The Big Red Machine is synonymous with the Reds.

But not in the world of trademarks.

Or in the name of an important place at Great American Ball Park.

That discrepancy is causing problems. It has fostered two urban myths about Hall of Famer Joe Morgan feuding with his old team.

These myths threaten to tarnish the luster of one of the new ballpark's most accessible spaces, the restaurant just beyond left field that will be open year-round to the public.

Credit Marge Schott's mismanagement of the Reds for this mess. It shows what happens when this city's institutions fail to pay attention to their history.

Naming rights

The Reds' Big Red Machine teams won the 1975 and 1976 World Series.

The new ballpark's left field restaurant pays tribute to those championship teams. It rounds third in fine fashion. And heads for home. But it doesn't score. Something's missing.

In wrought iron, "1975" and "1976" crown the bar. The AstroZamboni, the big red machine that vacuumed Riverfront Stadium's turf, sits atop the restaurant's restrooms.

The restaurant's name is The Machine Room.

The Reds couldn't name it the Big Red Machine Room.

The team let the Big Red Machine trademark - potentially worth millions in everything from T-shirts to movie deals - expire on April 5, 1993.

Back then, the Reds belonged to Marge Schott. In the spring of 1993, she was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid being suspended from baseball. Renewing trademarks wasn't high on her to-do list.

Morgan, the Big Red Machine's second baseman, applied for the trademark in 1997. He left word through his secretary that he "doesn't want to talk about this."

His application is being contested in trademark court. Morgan's opponent: The Reds, via Major League Baseball.

On same side

Tom Wellington, an attorney at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is assigned to the case. He told me both sides are discussing a settlement.

"I don't want it to be portrayed that there's a head-knocking here," said Reds chief operating officer John Allen.

"'Cause there really isn't. I know that, in conversations with Joe, we're in agreement. The Reds should never have to pay to use that trademark."

As the case continues, two urban myths have surfaced.

One claims Morgan won't permit the team to use the Big Red Machine name for the restaurant. The other says he'd let the Reds use it for a price, but the team won't pay.

Allen insists neither myth is true. He explained how the Machine Room got its name.

"It started out in our planning meetings as the Brew Pub."

Signs around the ballpark still point to the "Brew Pub." They'll be changed, Allen swears, before Opening Day.

The Big Red Machine Room was considered. And rejected. The Reds don't own the trademark.

Last summer, "a joint effort" created the Machine Room.

The name fits the room's machine shop motif. A massive steel girder, part of the ballpark's rib cage, dominates the 8,000-square-foot space. The room opens to a breath-taking vista of the seating bowl, playing field and Ohio River.

The room's decor - steel plates, thick wire fencing, huge pipes for foot rails - matches the Big Red Machine's no-frills, working-class image.

But the team's full name is missing above the doors.

The Machine Room does almost everything right in paying tribute to the Reds' best. To make it perfect, it would help to get the name right.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail

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