By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer
None of Marge Schott's players had a more heinous thing said about them by the Reds president and chief executive officer than Dave Parker and Eric Davis.
Two court witnesses in a wrongful-firing lawsuit said in 1992 that they had heard Schott refer to Parker and Davis as "my million-dollar niggers." On the opening day of that trial - Nov. 16, 1992 - Schott admitted she had used the "n" word. She said she didn't know if the "n" word was offensive to blacks.
In the end, the two superstars forgave her, even though they never forgot what she said. Unlike so many people who were so offended by such language and the images it conjured, Parker and Davis had three advantages.
They got to know Schott better because of it, got to have personal conversations with her about it and got to develop an affection for her after the uproar had diminished.
"The sad thing would be if she is remembered for what she said, rather than what she did," said Parker, a Cincinnati native who played from the Reds from 1984-87.
"I think she was a product of her upbringing. But the lady did a lot of good. She did a whole lot of good for the Reds and Cincinnati."
Parker remembers coming back to Cinergy Field as the St. Cardinals' hitting coach in the late 1990s and feeling a hand on his. He had no idea what it was all about. The gentle touch is not common batting-cage decorum.
"I looked over and it was Marge with those big eyes," Parker said, "just wanting to say hello. That's the way she was. She was just a sweet old lady. That's how you've got to regard it."
Davis, whose first stint with the Reds was 1984-91, said it was Schott who deserves the credit for him returning to Cincinnati for a farewell season in 1996, which turned out to be one of the best things he ever did. Reds fans got to see him for who he really was: a gamer, a clubhouse leader, somebody who cared.
Marge Schott gives Eric Davis a pat on the neck prior to a pre-game ceremony honoring his career at Cinergy Field in 2001.
(Glenn Hartong/file photo)
"I talked to Marge during the '95 playoffs when the Reds were playing the Dodgers," Davis said. "She's the one who initiated my return, not (former general manager) Jim Bowden or (manager) Ray Knight. They tried to prevent it. Without that conversation with Marge, I don't wind up back here."
Part of that and later conversations with Marge was the "n" word reference.
"I'm from the old-school freedom of speech, but that also applies to me, and I told Marge exactly what I thought," Davis said. "Our relationship was ... I won't call it love-hate, but it was intense. I don't know what the circumstances were when she said it, but as I told her, whatever the circumstances were, they weren't worthy. She apologized. I'm a man, and I accept that, but I don't forget it. The important thing is we were two adults, holding a conversation, learning about one another."
Parker admits to being bitter about Schott's "n" word reference at first. "I'm one of those guys who is only going to be treated one way, and that's with respect," he said. "After I got to know her better, I understood: She had money and she had power, and she grew up with people who made those comments, too. Deep down, she was a good person. When you think of all the good she did for the zoo, the various charities, that's what she should be remembered for. But I don't know if she will."
Davis said history also might forget that Schott was sometimes left unprotected by her general managers and vice president types.
"Marge was a pioneer, owning a prestigious franchise and winning a world championship, but she wasn't always given the best advice," Davis said. "It's wrong to say, or think, that everything that went wrong was her fault. That's what the people around you are for, provided you listen to them, of course. If you're (former GMs) Bob Quinn or Jim Bowden, you can't just say: 'She won't listen to me. Here's what Marge wants; here's what we've got to do.' Hey, it's your job to get her to listen to you."
Davis said he forgave Schott for being, at first, unwilling to pay for his flight back to Cincinnati after he'd been injured in the 1990 World Series in Oakland.
"I don't think Bob Quinn tried hard enough to prevail upon her to pay for the flight," Davis said. "He had to know how bad she was going to look if he let her take the brunt of that. Maybe he tried. I don't know. But you just can't let things like that happen."
Davis hopes that, in the end, the scales weigh more heavily on Marge's side. "It's unfortunate that in the last few years of her life, the team had been taken away from her and she sort of vanished into the sunset," he said. "You want to finish on a positive note. It went the opposite way for Marge. I hope she will be remembered for the positive things she tried to do."
"She loved to win. She loved the fan notoriety. She basked in the glow of being the owner of the Cincinnati Reds."
Reds radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman
"I think people are appreciated once they're gone, to tell you the truth. I think people will remember the good things about Marge."
Reds shortstop Barry Larkin
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