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CINCINNATI'S NEW TOP DOG : If Her Baseball Team Does as Well as Her Other Businesses, Watch Out

February 25, 1985|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

CINCINNATI — If there's a place in this world for a dancing bear in black tie, elephants in the backyard, a car parked in the living room and a St. Bernard in the executive suite, then there's a place in baseball for Marge Schott.

That place used to be in the air space high above Riverfront Stadium, from where Schott launched salvos that would score direct hits on the people responsible for the dismantling of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.

Once, when the Philadelphia Phillies were in town with ex-Reds Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, she had a plane buzz the stadium trailing this message: "Tony, Pete, Joe, Help. Love, Marge."

It wasn't just another special occasion for Schott the night last summer when Rose finally returned as player-manager of the Reds. It was her 54th birthday. And now, mere months later, Marge Schott is not only a Rose booster, she's his boss, the new majority owner of the Reds.

"Let a woman in and all hell breaks loose, huh?" she said with a laugh.

Let a dog in, and the world really takes notice. At the press conference last December announcing her purchase of the team from the Williams brothers, William and James, Schott was escorted by her St. Bernard, Schottzie, decked out in a Reds cap.

Now, for anyone who knows Schott--and just about everyone in Cincinnati does--that was no more startling than Yankee owner George Steinbrenner threatening to fire his manager. Schottzie, after all, is a regular on TV ads for Schott's car dealerships.

And it could just as easily have been the bear, which Schott hired out as her escort to a high-society birthday party for one of the Williams' brothers. Or the elephants Schott borrows from the zoo for the annual Reds' rally, a charity bash she hosts at the 70-acre estate she owns in Indian Hills, on Cincinnati's West Side.

So it was not as if Schottzie's presence was without precedent. But there were those who took exception, like A. Ray Smith, owner of the minor-league Redbirds, who lost out in the bidding for the Reds to Schott.

"I don't know the lady, but she obviously is making a bad impression," Smith said. "My God, that dog at the press conference must have really embarrassed Bill Williams."

Schott took Smith's attack in stride. Well, actually she stuck her tongue out. "We send our love back," she said with a wink.

One can only imagine Smith's reaction when he overheard Schott talking to her dog one recent morning in her office in downtown Cincinnati.

"Wanna be chairman of the board?"she asked.

Schottzie, absorbed with a bag of corn chips at the time, did not respond.

"Schottzie's going to shag for Rose," she said. "I just learned that word at a dinner the other night."

Schott, of course, is not the first woman to own a major-league baseball team. Joan Payson owned the Mets and Joan Kroc, widow of the McDonald's empire-builder, owns the San Diego Padres.

"I'd love to meet Mrs. Kroc, she sounds like a super lady," Schott says. "I love McDonald's. I cry at their commercials--you know, with the kids, and 'You're the one.' So touching."

Schott would soon get her chance to meet Joan Kroc. They were scheduled to appear together on a TV talk show in Los Angeles, with another prominent female owner of a sports franchise whose name escaped Schott.

"What is it, Ferraro, or Rosenbaum?" she said. "Mrs. Footsie-o-Tootsie. I don't know if she's going to be there. She married a band leader, right? Is he Italian? Did she go from a Jewish husband to an Italian husband?"

Told that Rams' owner Georgia Frontiere had made multiple trips to the altar, Schott looked incredulous. "Where did she find the time?" she said. Then, laughing: "My people are trying to hitch me up to Lee Iacocca."

No such luxury for Schott, whose only husband, Charles, died of a heart attack 17 years ago at the age of 42. Since then, she's been too busy overseeing her car dealerships and shopping centers and brick and cement factories, so successfully that she was the first woman to be elected to the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce in 132 years.

When Schott, who had been a minority partner with the Williamses, was first announced as the Reds' buyer, there was some speculation that she lacked the funds to meet the asking price, estimated at $25 million. That skepticism apparently didn't include the Cincinnati business community.

"They're very impressed she made the cabbage," said Charles Bartlett, insurance company president, prominent local philanthropist and longtime friend of Schott.

"There are no credentials admired as much in the business community as making money. If she convinced the bankers who loaned her the money (to buy the Reds), then she must have the cabbage.

"She took over the car dealerships at a very bad time and has done very well."

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