She paid for a world title,
then paid for her mistakes

Schott came through at contract time, but pinched pennies till it hurt

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marge Schott
Marge Schott and Pete Rose, two of the most beloved and controversial figures in Cincinnati baseball history, hug after Rose hit No. 4,192 to break Ty Cobb’s career hit record on Sept. 11, 1985.
(Enquirer file)
Among Reds fans, Reds owner Marge Schott will be remembered for bringing a World Championship to town in 1990, and for failing to invest in the farm system, which meant the team team was short of talent when it moved in Great American Ball Park in 2003.

As soon as Schott entered what she called "the old boys' club" of major-league baseball in December 1984, by acquiring a majority of Reds shares, she was feted as being "one of a kind."

"I get carried away at Christmas," she said.

Fans were unabashed in their regard for her back then. She was a breath of fresh air, somebody who was approachable and accountable. Even when she got into trouble later for the things she said, many people characterized those words as not accurately representing what was in her heart. Among those people was Barry Larkin, whose family always defended Marge's inherently good nature to the hilt.

Marge had an eccentric edge (flipping a coin to decide a $25,000 contract dispute with outfielder Kal Daniels), a flinty side (refusing to pay for Eric Davis to fly home afer he was injured in the 1990 World Series), a prudish sense (alienating manager Davey Johnson because he was living with his wife-to-be before marrying her) and some downright daffiness (commandeering the microphone when the '90 World Series opened at Riverfront Stadium just before the first Gulf War and praising "our wonderful men and women in the Far East.")

Her eccentricities nearly, but not quite, defined her: anybody who heard or saw some of the things she did, couldn't quite shake them: she let her St. Bernard dogs relieve themselves on the Riverfront carpet, and she rubbed dog hair on the chest of Reds manager Lou Piniella and St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire.

But, as a whole, most fans liked her because she spent lavishly on players to give the Reds the best chance to win, and she kept ticket and concession prices low.

On one hand she would pinch pennies in the front office, rationing paper clips and telling scouts not to make calls from their hotel rooms because of the service charge on the telephones, but on the other hand she would open the checkbook for late-season trades.

Along the way, she had some memorable lines: "Pitchers are boring; I want to see home runs" and "All scouts do is watch games" and "Is Kansas City in our division?"

Fan interest was high - until the 1995 playoffs, when only 36,000 people showed up in 53,000-seat Riverfront Stadium for a playoff game between the Reds and Atlanta.

"Disgusting," said Schott, alienating many in the fan base, who while appreciative of the dollar hot dogs and $12 box seats, had been alienated by recent labor strife between players and owners.

Although many fans will never forgive Schott for letting then-Reds manager Piniella leave after the 1992 season - she was inexcusably late in "talking contract" with Piniella - it is also true that she is the one who brought him to town in the first place upon the recommendation of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, from whom she regularly sought advice. She also hired Bob Quinn as general manager at Steinbrenner's advice, and the pair ratcheted the Reds up the extra notch they needed to compete for a world championship.

She was renowned for being so accessible to fans. The image of Marge sitting in her blue box seat between the Reds dugout and the backstop and tirelessly signing autographs for children is an image that fans will carry with them for a long time.

Many of Mrs. Schott's best moments came on Opening Day, which - along with the Findlay Market Parade - she cherished because of the unique place in Cincinnati's baseball history.

Schott once was asked why she made such a big deal out of Opening Day.

"Because of the fans, honey," she said. "I knew what separated us from everybody else. We had the first team, and we have the parade. We are the only one with a parade. I think Opening Day and the Findlay Market Parade are the two big things in Cincinnati. They go together!"

She called Opening Day her "favorite day."

She was proud of the fact that she had focused the spotlight on the Reds' second game of the 1994 season, instead of the first, an Easter Sunday night national TV opener at Riverfront Stadium, in which the Reds lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.

"ESPN wanted us to open our season on Sunday night, and so we did that - but that wasn't our Opening Day," Schott explained. "And so, we didn't treat it like Opening Day - and neither did anybody else in Cincinnati, either. The parade was Monday, the ushers in tuxedos were Monday, the big crowd was Monday. That's when Opening Day is, honey! Monday afternoon!"

She never served as grand marshal of the parade, but was always an integral part of it.

Although she kept a much lower profile after she was forced to sell her majority shares in the team, she never lost her feistiness. When an Enquirer reporter ran into her at Pete Rose's batting clinic in Sharonville late last year and the subject of baseball commissioner Bud Selig came up, Schott said, "I don't like him."

"Make sure it's Marge saying that, not me," said Rose, laughing and motioning to the reporter.

Rose liked Marge, and it showed right up till the end.

From the beginning, Rose was a Schott favorite, and that lasted right on through the difficult times, including into the present. She often said she was the one who brought Rose back to town as a player-manager in August 1994, although it was then-general manager Bob Howsam who did that. But Schott had her most fun at the helm when Rose was the manager, referring to those times as "The Pete and Marge Show."

She believed the two of them - both Cincinnati natives - had a lot to do with putting people in the seats. She was right about Rose, and in one sense, right about herself, because she paid the price to have good teams.

She enjoyed coming around and mingling when Rose was managing, because she felt they were both kindred spirits: show people. Rose was comfortable around her, and never tried to upstage her.

Schott was managing general partner of her hometown Reds, from December 1984 to April 1999. She had been a limited partner before that. Some of her most colorful, and fan-favorite, moves occurred when she was a limited partner.

In 1983, when former Big Red Machine members Rose, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez came to town while playing for the Phillies, Schott hired a pilot and plane to fly above Riverfront Stadium. The Phillies were headed for the World Series; the Reds for a second straight season in the basement.

The plane pulled a banner that read, "Tony, Pete, Joe. Help ... Love, Marge."

Although she was suspended from operating the team for a year in 1993 and agreed to give up majority ownership in 1999, her popularity grew with fans the longer she was away from the spotlight.

Hardly a day went by on sports-talk radio during discussions of the Reds' present condition that some caller or two didn't wax nostalgic about Schott's free-spending ways and her commitment to bringing a winner home to Cincinnati.


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