By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For all her acts of kindness and generosity, for all the love of children and devotion to Reds fans, it is the hateful words that sometimes tumbled from Marge Schott's mouth that defined her for many.
Schott is welcomed back to her office at Riverfront Stadium in November
1993 after serving a Major League Baseball-imposed suspension for
using racially offensive language.
Her troubles began in October 1991, when Tim Sabo, the team controller fired by Schott, sued her in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. Among Sabo's claims, he said he was fired because he opposed what he said was a policy of not hiring blacks for front-office positions.
Schott denied the charge and counter-sued. A jury ultimately cleared Schott of any wrong-doing.
That might have been the end of it had not the team's former marketing director, Cal Levy, not alleged in a deposition that Schott had called two African-American outfielders, Eric Davis and Dave Parker, her "million-dollar niggers.''
By the end of the month, Sharon Jones, a former Oakland Athletics executive, claimed she heard Schott on the phone saying she would "never hire another nigger. I'd rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger.''
In December 1992, when she was quoted in the New York Times saying her use of the N-word was a joke and mused about the rise of Adolf Hitler as being initially good for Germany, the powers that be appointed a four-person committee to investigate Schott.
On Feb. 3, 1993, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Schott would be suspended for one year, fined $25,000 and ordered to undergo "multicultural training programs.''
"Mrs. Schott's practice of using language that is racially and ethnically offensive has brought substantial disrepute and embarrassment to the game,'' Selig's statement said. "It is not in the best interest of baseball.''
While many Reds fans rallied around their hometown favorite, others questioned whether she had been punished enough.
Former Reds star Dave Parker, an alleged target of one of Schott's slurs, called it a "slap on the wrist.''
"You've got owners taking care of their own,'' Parker said.
For the next five years, Schott's troubles mounted - sometimes because of what she said; other times, because of what she did.
In 1994, she told the Enquirer she wouldn't allow her players to wear earrings "because only fruits wear earrings.''
Two years later, when home plate umpire John McSherry dropped dead of a heart attack seven pitches into the Reds' season opener, Schott was hesitant to call the game, saying, "I feel cheated. This isn't supposed to happen to us, not in Cincinnati.'' She sent flowers to the umpires' dressing room - flowers she had received that day from someone else.
Later that year, General Motors filed a complaint with the Ohio Motor Vehicle Dealers Board alleging Schott had falsified 57 auto sales to meet quotas needed to keep her Chevrolet-Geo dealership. She was said to have used the names of some Reds employees without their knowledge. In the end, GM forced her to sell the dealership.
A May 1996 interview on ESPN was the final straw for Major League Baseball. Schott once again sang the praises of the early years of Hitler's dictatorship, saying, "Everything you read, when he came in he was good.''
She later apologized and explained that she was well aware of Hitler's atrocities and thought him an evil man. But the damage was done.
Michael Rapp, director of Cincinnati's Jewish Community Relations Council, said Schott seemed "constitutionally incapable of understanding her remarks and the implications of her remarks.''
Later that month, Sports Illustrated quoted her speaking in a "cartoonish Japanese accent'' while describing her meeting with the Japanese prime minister. She also told the magazine she didn't like seeing Asian-American high school kids "come here, honey, and stay so long and then outdo our kids. That's not right.''
The next month, Baseball's executive council ordered Schott to give up day-to-day operation of the Reds to avoid a long suspension. She agreed to stay away until 1998, when, with health problems mounting, she agreed to sell her controlling share of the team, which went to Carl Lindner and two other limited partners.
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