Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Remembering Schott's generosity


The world may remember Marge Schott as someone who owned a baseball team and often said the wrong thing, but her fans forgave her much because she dearly wanted to win. She died Tuesday at age 75.

Baseball and careless comments got her in the headlines, but there was much more to this remarkable woman. She was a pioneering businesswoman and a benefactor of schools, youth clubs and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. There are thousands of children and former children who remember standing in the aisle behind her seat to get an autograph and a raspy greeting of "Hi Honey!" The autographs often came with the trademark hand-drawn paw print of Schottzie, her ever-present St. Bernard.

Today in Cincinnati, that is the way we should remember her.

Her generosity, rather than her notoriety, explains why Marge Schott was held dear in so many Cincinnati hearts. Kids, animals and ballplayers were her chief interests, and sometimes she combined them for the benefit of all. One Saturday in November 2001, she spent two hours signing 300 autographs at $8-$15 a pop, just like a big leaguer. But Marge was doing it to raise money for the zoo. She probably could have signed twice as many autographs if she hadn't spent so much time chatting with each child in line and telling them to call her "Aunt Marge."

Gregg Hudson, chief executive officer of the zoo, said Schott was one of the most generous donors in the zoo's history. She donated an elephant, named Schottzie in her honor, and then occasionally "borrowed" the beast to lumber along in the Reds Opening Day parades. She sponsored the "Vanishing Giants" exhibit in 2000, housed in the newly renovated elephant house, for which she had helped raise money.

In Marge mythology, this over-the-top dog-lover never totally lost the image of an underdog - first woman to command a General Motors dealership and have to fight to keep it, a female ball club owner who feuded constantly with her male limited partners, and a woman who never won acceptance into the old boys club of Major League Baseball team owners. Yet she achieved success - first in the car business and later with the Reds, winning a world championship sweep of the Oakland A's in 1990..

There's no defending her racial and ethnic slurs. She probably went to her death still not comprehending that they caused anyone harm. Cincinnatians were as astounded as anyone else at her insensitivity, still there was no denying she was part of us.

Schott peaked in the era of what-you-see-is-what-you-get, and that catchphrase pretty much summed her up. She was about as politically incorrect as they come. Eventually it cost her the team that was her front-row ticket to the hearts of fans.

She was generous and good-hearted. She loved Cincinnati and will be long remembered as someone who left her mark on this city and used her considerable wealth to do much good.

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