Wednesday, March 3, 2004

She was a true original

Like her or not, Marge was Marge

Farewell, honey.

Goodbye to your big heart, your big mouth and the memory of your big, big dogs. You'll be remembered, babe. One way or another.

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Marge Schott had a time, didn't she? She didn't just have a life, the way most of us do, those who confront the day-to-day. She lived one. You can argue the merits of her time, you can judge the facts of her case. You can't dispute she was an original. We won't see the likes of Marge Schott again.

Marge died Tuesday. Hoist a vodka in her name. A Kamchatka, the cheap stuff, with a little water.

The true measure of a person is whether he or she leaves a place better than he or she found it. Is Cincinnati better for having raised and rooted Marge Schott?

Yeah. Probably.

Good Marge competed with Bad Marge, daily.

Two students at Saint Ursula Academy & Convent walk past a sign Tuesday afternoon marking the passing of Marge Schott. Schott was a large contributor to the East Walnut Hills school.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Good Marge loved kids and animals. Bad Marge slurred adults not born white and Anglo. Good Marge gave away money as if she had a mint in her Indian Hill basement: a million dollars to the Boy Scouts. A million-five to St. Ursula, the school that reminded her of her alma mater, Sacred Heart Academy. Tens of thousands of dollars to other causes she embraced, many that helped children. And we didn't even mention the zoo. Marge loved the zoo.

Bad Marge sold day-old doughnuts to fans standing in line to buy Opening Day tickets. The day after umpire John McSherry died, Bad Marge gave the umpires the flowers she'd been given by a local TV station the previous day.

Good Marge rubbed Schottzie hair on Lou Piniella's chest. Bad Marge made general manager Bob Quinn scoop Schottzie's poop when the St. Bernard let loose in the executive offices.

Good Marge paid for a World Series championship in 1990. Bad Marge sent the kitchen staff home from the Parc 55 hotel in San Francisco, the night the Reds finished their sweep of the Oakland A's. The players returned from the stadium and washed their triumph in adult beverages, believing dinner was on the way. Marge sent the cooks home, pleased she had saved a few thousand bucks. The players drank freely on empty stomachs.

Piniella and outfielder Billy Hatcher ended up buying bags of hamburgers from a downtown fast-food joint. The world champs celebrated themselves with fries and nausea. It wasn't pretty.

Marge was a tough old bird. Even when she wasn't old. She was who she was and didn't give a damn what you thought. Stricken with emphysema, she continued to inhale Carltons. Crippled by osteoporosis - "that bone thing, honey," she called it - and colitis, she continued to drink vodka. Marge would be Marge to the end.

She could tell you the names of the mechanics at Schott Buick more easily than she could the heroes of the 1990 Series. She was accepted more readily in the car business than the baseball business.

All baseball ever wanted was for Marge to keep quiet. The game had too many other worries to be bothered by her. Marge couldn't help herself. You could debate if she really wanted to. Words floated like magpies - or anvils - from her mouth. What she thought, she said.

She was born 50 years too late. She lived her later life in a time when what she said was more important than what she did. Political correctness is a noose of feigned politeness that stifles much-needed discussion. We're afraid of saying the wrong thing now, so we don't say anything.

Marge would have none of that. She was Archie Bunker for real, at a time when Archie Bunker was no longer acceptable. Baseball kicked her to the curb because, in this day and age, it had no choice.

She lived in a classically elegant Tudor mansion on 90 acres. She had a secret passage behind the fireplace. She had a swastika armband, a World War II souvenir, in the drawer of a table just off the foyer.

Johnny Weismuller swam in her pool. Elephants walked her front yard. She had salt licks all over her property, for the deer.

She was, I thought, a lonely woman. She'd leave her royal domain at Riverfront Stadium, where the kids would walk down the steps to her front-row seat for autographs, a steady procession of them, night after night, for a big, old house with 40-year-old furniture and closed-off rooms concealed by thick draperies. Alone with her dog and her drink.

She insisted on $1 hot dogs. She banned the media from the stadium dining room. (I was the initial exile.) She was the people's owner, and the people loved her, in spite of herself. She was a rich woman with peasant sensibilities. We liked her for that. For most of her years, most people in this town liked her. She had very few close friends.

She was kind, frequently asking those who worked for her how their spouses and children were. She could also be coarse.

Her maiden name was Unnewehr. Pronounced "unaware." Some would call that ironic.

Most of us will recall her unpleasantness as eccentricity, fueled by drink. Time scrubs the dirt clean. What endures is the image of a small, contradictory woman, powerful and lonely, big-hearted and mean-spirited, willfully anachronistic, determined to shoot herself in the foot. If only so no one else could do it, babe.

That was Marge. Raise a glass for her today, honey, OK? Unlike most of us, the old gal was one of a kind. Like most of us, she meant well. Even when it seemed she didn't.


MARGE SCHOTT: 1928-2004   [Special section]
'A woman of the people'
Daugherty: She was a true original
Insensitivity defined reign over Reds - and ended it
Schott gave millions for kids, pet causes
She paid for a world title, then paid for her mistakes
Pioneering businesswoman stood up to General Motors
Timeline: A lifetime of Marge
Reds remember only the best
Parker, Davis remember Marge for good deeds, not bad words
Schott's controversies still reverberate in baseball
Enquirer editorial: Remembering Schott's generosity