Seeing Red

Evidently, there are no limits on baseball's current charms.
Volatile Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle, long a wrecker of locker rooms and teammates' psyches, throws a baseball at a magazine photographer who has the temerity to take his picture, and American League president Gene Budig orders him to counseling.

Self-absorbed San Francisco star Barry Bonds shoves a newspaper reporter in the Giants clubhouse, and NL president Len Coleman ponders the penalty. After all, then-New York pitcher Jack McDowell was fined last year for giving Yankee Stadium fans a middle-finger salute in response to their boos.

Five New York Mets (including a coach) and four Chicago Cubs are thrown out of a May 11 game at Shea Stadium following a sixteen-minute brawl with more authentic fistiana in it than most heavyweight title fights. Too bad neither team can hit the ball.

After nearly two seasons of suspensions and cocaine-abuse treatments, the career-squandering righty Dwight Gooden, now a Yankee, throws a no-hitter against the Mariners, and every hairdo on the boob tube goes mush-goofy with tales of redemption and renewal, tempered with the usual self-righteous cautions about how to spend your evenings. Wonder if Doc's old running mate Darryl Strawberry stayed up (or out) to watch the no-no. Or if he had a couple of hits.

In a game on May 15, Padres left-fielder Rickey Henderson, still one of the fastest men in baseball, misplays Met Lance Johnson's single to left, and once it gets past him, lopes to the fence like an overheated draught horse, picks the ball up as if it were radioactive and loops it in to the cut-off man. The Padres are trailing 2-1 at the time, and Johnson winds up on third. But Rickey's a superstar, haven't you heard?

Then there's the case of Marge "Cheap" Schott.
Marge's Cincinnati Reds are in town for a four-game series with the last-place Rockies, and we can only surmise she's not in town with them. So far, we haven't heard about any room-service waiters getting fifteen-cent tips over at the Westin, and no one's been spotted at Coors Field wearing a sheet and a hood. So it's a pretty good bet Schott's back home in Cincy eating chili mac and getting that swastika armband dry-cleaned.

You can be sure she's not taking elocution lessons. Or chatting with any of her fellow team owners. Or taking an umpire to lunch.

Schott's latest indiscretion is her interview in the May 20 issue of Sports Illustrated, in which she insults Asian Americans, lets fly some uninformed comments about former Japanese prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa and reiterates the opinion that women do not belong in the American workplace. This from a woman who fought General Motors tooth and nail back in the 1960s when the automaker tried to take her late husband's dealership away from her: She kept it and is presumably still working it.

Just in case you're from some evil, alien place like, say, Japan, or you're a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool hockey fan (plenty of those around here this week), here's a brief review of the world according to Marge.

May 5, 1996: Licking its corporate chops, the sports network ESPN airs Schott's interview with Sal Paolantonio, in which the unguarded owner moralizes about ex-Reds manager Davey Johnson--age 52--who offended his employer by living with his fiancee before they were married. She acknowledges that she regularly has departures and arrivals of the team's chartered plane monitored by video camera to make sure her players aren't traveling with girlfriends. In the setpiece of the ESPN session, history major Marge Schott explains that the Nazi armband spotted in her home is simply "war memorabilia," then adds her now-infamous assessment of Adolf Hitler: "Everything you read, when he came in he was good. They built tremendous highways and got all the factories going...but then he went nuts. He went berserk, I guess. I think even his own generals tried to kill him, didn't they? Everybody knows that he did good at the beginning but then he went too far."

Apparently, Schott is more familiar with the Cadillac owner's manual than with Mein Kampf, and for her, Kristallnacht is the time they gave away beer mugs at Crosley Field.

On May 7, she apologizes for the insensitivity of her remarks. On May 8, Reds fans hang a bedsheet banner over the left-field rail at Riverfront Stadium that reads: "Marge, Please Keep Your Mouth Shut." Security guards remove it after one inning.

April 1, 1996: The Opening Day game between the Reds and Montreal at Riverfront is just seven pitches old when huge home plate umpire John McSherry is stricken by a fatal heart attack. While doctors attend to the dying man, Schott concerns herself with the fans--and the gate. She is later quoted as saying: "I can't believe this is happening to me," and that she felt "cheated" when the National League postponed the game out of respect. Then she sends secondhand flowers as a sympathy gift to the remaining umpires. Later in the week, out-of-town scores vanish from the Reds' home scoreboard because Schott doesn't want to pay the $300-a-day tariff.

Summer, 1995: In the midst of a Reds losing streak, Schott indulges in a little homegrown white magic by rubbing players' uniforms with fur once belonging to her late St. Bernard, Schottzie. Before its demise, the animal's frequent appearance on the field was long a point of contention with some Reds players--not to speak of the grounds crew. And you can teach a new dog old tricks, Marge has learned: Schottzie II is the latest unofficial team mascot.

Spring 1993: Schott is fined $25,000 and suspended for the entire year after she makes disparaging remarks about Jews and applies the "N" word to two of her own players--Dave Parker and Eric Davis. She attends "sensitivity training" classes, which apparently do not include a vow of silence. The Reds finish fifth in 1993, but in strike-shortened 1994, the season without a World Series, they lead the Central Division of the National League with a heady 66-48 record when the labor dispute blows sky-high. In 1995, they win the NL Central and sweep the Dodgers three straight in the divisional playoffs before losing a four-game sweep in the next round to the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves. Thus is averted baseball's darkest nightmare--Marge Schott back at the World Series, yakking away from the owner's box about everything from who should sit where on the bus to the seven sacraments. Her dog sits out the Series, too.

Whither Marge?
Clearly, there's some pretty heavy irony in the fact that many of Schott's fellow owners would like her to take a hike. The owners won't meet as a group until their quarterly meeting in early June, and it's certain that Schott's gaffes will come up. Most observers feel she could be fined again--even suspended--but she's not likely to be driven off her perch as Reds owner. When she bought the club in 1985, Baseball Weekly reports, it was her lawyers who drew up the partnership agreement that gives her power over her fellow investors in the team.

Meanwhile, consider some of the conversationalists at the summer meetings. There's George Steinbrenner, lord mayor and chief executioner of the Bronx, a man no more beloved in the Yankees' clubhouse than Schott is in the Reds'. There is Ted Turner, TV magnate and power broker, clearly concerned with the game's public image. There is "acting" baseball commissioner Bud Selig, also owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, who was a corporate hard-liner during the game's divisive work stoppage; he would just as soon see more trouble in the game as give away beer, but it is said that Selig, league president Coleman and a team of baseball lawyers are busy looking for some legal method of ousting Schott.

Will she eventually go? Not peacefully, that's for sure. "I think somebody is trying to get me out, honey, somebody that wants to buy the team," she told Sports Illustrated. But Schott may be saving her best Schott for last. "I'm best when I'm battling," she warns.

Even when the generals are plotting against the head buffoon.


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