Schott Gives Up Control Of Reds Under Fire, The Owner Agreed To Step Aside. She's Eligible To Return After The 1998 Season.

Posted: June 13, 1996

Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who controlled her team's expenses with a penny-pinching passion but couldn't control her tongue, last night agreed to relinquish control of baseball's oldest franchise through the 1998 season.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig said National League president Leonard Coleman would work with Schott to find a mutually agreeable replacement for the next 2 1/2 seasons. John Allen, the Reds' controller, will assume the responsibility for the next 60 days, or until a replacement is found.

``We can guarantee this [interim replacement] will be a real CEO,'' Selig said during a conference call to disclose the ruling. ``This is a situation that Leonard Coleman will monitor very, very closely . . . This is not in any way going to be a sham.''

Schott will be stripped of most of her authority during her absence, though she will continue to have final approval over the Reds' operating budgets and will be consulted during negotiations for a new Cincinnati stadium.

``Beyond that,'' Selig said, ``she will not be involved in day-to-day decisions, nor act as a spokesperson, nor represent the club at National League and major-league meetings. She will continue to have access to all areas of the stadium, including her field-level box, her office and the field.''

And if, during her absence, Schott should again put her foot in her mouth or attempt to interfere in her club's daily operations, Selig vowed even harsher penalties.

``Any violation will lead to something far more serious than what you have tonight,'' he said.

Schott, who has run the Reds with sporadic success since 1985, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The decision concluded a series of events that began two months ago when Schott, suspended for similar comments in 1993, defended Adolf Hitler during an ESPN interview. Later, in a Sports Illustrated article that presented her as a lonely woman cut off from everything but her beloved St. Bernard dog and her ball club, the childless, 67-year-old widow insulted working women and Asians.

Baseball's owners discussed penalties during a meeting in Philadelphia last week, deciding to suspend her if she did not voluntarily relinquish control. Last night those discussions concluded in a wide-ranging conference call that involved owners, Selig, Coleman and attorneys for baseball and Schott.

``We thought a period of two-plus years was fair in light of everything,'' said Selig, who indicated he had not spoken with Schott in several days.

Most owners had privately blanched at the tightfisted manner in which Schott ran one of baseball's most storied franchises, and they often were embarrassed by her obsession with her dogs and her frequent insensitivity to Reds employees. But it was the craggy-faced owner's bigoted comments that were at the heart of these latest troubles.

``It was frankly a succession of events,'' Selig said. ``The interviews, the other events that quite frankly were not in anyone's best interests.''

Coleman suggested Schott's image as a bigot conflicted with baseball's attempts to broaden fan support - support that has been eroding since the sport's most recent strike truncated the '94 and '95 seasons.

``Since 1947, baseball has been a very inclusive sport,'' Coleman said. ``The message we wanted to send with this action is that we as a sport are sensitive to diversity and multiculturalism. We were determined to take the right steps, and Mrs. Schott understood.

``The purpose of our talks with Mrs. Schott and her representatives was not to strip Mrs. Schott of her asset or to eliminate her enjoyment of the ball club,'' Coleman said. ``The focus of baseball in Cincinnati can now return to the field, where it belongs.''

There were reports from Cincinnati last night that Reds players and coaches were concerned that Allen, a loyal Schott disciple, would begin dismantling the team in a money-saving frenzy. Cincinnati, which won a World Series for Schott in 1990, is currently in last place in the National League Central but only four games behind division-leading Houston.

``Starting [today],'' Selig said, ``Len Coleman will be monitoring the activities of the club on a daily basis. . . . These negotiations were sensitive and direct. I'm at least really pleased that the outcome was something both sides agreed on. This was the outcome all of us wanted when we embarked on this course. It clearly was what we believed to be in the best interest of Mrs. Schott, of baseball and of the fans of Cincinnati.''

The controversial Schott was given the option of relinquishing control or facing a suspension that, according to Selig, would likely have been for the same 2 1/2-year period. Schott has not yet ruled out possible litigation against baseball's executive council, Selig said, but since she did sign the agreement, he did not anticipate any legal reprisals.

So in the space of 24 hours, baseball resolved two of its long-standing problems - it hired its first marketing director, Greg Murphy, on Tuesday, and yesterday it shed its greatest public-relations burden.

Schott had been suspended for one year and fined $25,000 in February of 1993 after making derogatory comments about African Americans and others. That penalty was worded in a way that made yesterday's action easier for the executive council, Schott having been ``sternly warned not to engage in such conduct in the future.''

That suspension was reduced to eight months, and until her recent comments on ESPN and in Sports Illustrated, Schott had managed to avoid major difficulties. On the field, her Reds won the National League Central title last season, but lost to Atlanta in the playoffs.

This year was a different story. She complained when the Reds' season-opening game was postponed, even though the reason was the on-field death of umpire John McSherry. Then came her intemperate remarks.

While she occasionally spent money on short-term, high-risk free agents such as Ron Gant during her 11-year tenure, Schott never stopped paring the Reds' administrative budget.

Last season, she eliminated game notes for reporters and photographers on many occasions and, for one brief period, did away with the service that provided out-of-town scores for Riverfront Stadium fans. Reds front-office employees were overworked and overburdened. One public-relations aide left to take a similar but better-paying position with a minor-league hockey franchise.

``She understood where we were coming from and in the end realized this was in everyone's best interests,'' Selig said. ``That's why I think she chose this rather than the other [suspension]. All those advising her came to the same conclusion.''

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