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COMMENTARY

An Arrogant Marge Schott Is an Embarrassment to Baseball

May 12, 1996|THOMAS BOSWELL | WASHINGTON POST

Last year the Cincinnati Reds had a party for some of their front-office personnel. The buffet was mostly cold cuts and white bread. Schottzie 2, the enormous drooling St. Bernard of team owner Marge Schott, started licking the bowl full of mayonnaise.

"Marge," said the wife of one Red, "Schottzie's gotten into the food."

"That's terrible," said Schott. "That's expensive mayonnaise."

So, Schott got a knife, stirred the mayo until the evidence--three big doggie tongue prints--disappeared. Then, Schott said loudly, "Come on, everybody. Eat up."

"I think she did the last part--calling everybody over--for the benefit of those of us who'd seen the dog do it," said one eyewitness to Slobbergate. "Marge enjoys showing how awful she can be and still get away with it."

That's the dark heart of Marge Schott. She may be simple, but she knows what she's doing and saying. She knows the response it will get. She knows exactly who she's offending.

And she loves it.

In an interview on ESPN on last Sunday, Schott said of Adolf Hitler that "everybody knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far."

Those are the exact words she used back in 1993 when she was fined $25,000 and suspended from baseball for one year for slurs against blacks, Jews and Asians. Some people refuse to learn from the mistakes of others--as Jimmy the Greek didn't learn from Al Campanis. But Schott can't even learn from herself. Because she doesn't want to learn.

Her every action says, "I haven't changed one bit. And you can't make me."

Back in 1993, a former Reds comptroller charged in a lawsuit that he was fired because he protested Schott's use of phrases like "million-dollar niggers," "money-grubbing Jews" and "Japs."

Schott denied those charges. Then, backhandedly, she confirmed them. Asked if she had ever used the word "nigger," she said, "sure" but "very seldom." She added it was "a Southern expression" and not necessarily offensive to African Americans.

She couldn't remember whether she'd called Martin Luther King Jr. Day "nigger day," but added "anything's possible." As to the swastika she kept at home among her Christmas decorations, she said it was memorabilia.

Schott isn't just unrepentant about her bigotry. She clearly revels in it. After she returned from her previous suspension, she gave a downtown Cincinnati speech in which she said she didn't allow her Reds players to wear earrings because "only fruits wear earrings."

On the surface, many Schott anecdotes are like Schottzie 2 and the mayo--funny, gross, sad or just plain hard to believe. In a perverse way, we find ourselves anticipating her next sick stunt or warped comment. Who else in public life would react to an umpire dropping dead of a heart attack at home plate by saying she felt "cheated" because the Opening Day game--and its profits--were canceled? Who else would send recycled flowers as a gesture of condolence to the remaining umpires? Who else, to save a few dollars, would cancel the out-of-town scoreboard service, saying that the fans could get the scores "off the radio"?

Unfortunately, deep down, most of Schott's headline-grabbing deeds speak to the evil streak in an angry, unhappy woman.

Schott doesn't just talk like a bigot. She doesn't just bully her employees and insult the Reds fans. She isn't just a source of embarrassment and institutional damage to baseball. Shielded by $100 million and lawyers, Schott takes arrogant pleasure in her defiance of the commonly held moral values that this country has spent generations trying to build.

Freedom of speech protects Schott, as it should. But that same freedom puts a responsibility on us. Nobody is preventing us from speaking bluntly about her. For example, Schott is a perfect example of an infuriating kind of '90s public enemy: the know-nothing know-it-all. This villain shamelessly parades his big lies as if they were solid truths. The Apollo moon landing was staged in Hollywood. The Holocaust didn't happen. Evolution is just a theory. Gradually, the half-cracked and the ignorant begin to gain credibility in their own eyes. When they go unreproved long enough, ranting about the FBI being murderers, sooner or later, somebody may take the next step. And build a bomb.

Three years ago, baseball had a invertebrate interim commissioner who did not discipline her effectively. She was fined $25,000--one-tenth the amount that a commissioner can impose. Her "suspension" forced her to move from the lower deck box seats--in public view--to the mezzanine-level sky suites behind glass. That's right, her entire punishment was that she had to take the elevator up one flight for a few months.

Now, Bud Selig--baseball's appeaser--is still commissioner. He's paralyzed by the enormous conflicts of interest inherent in an owner trying to double as commissioner. He's inept to boot. Yet he's addicted to the job. Last week Selig remained in character. He delayed his Schott announcement until it would be too late for the national TV news. I predicted to my editor that Bud's Do Nothing pronouncement would break at 7:15 p.m.

At 7:20 p.m., the Associated Press moved this advisory: "Selig Declines To Discipline Schott."

Next time, now that we all know the drill, maybe we can call it to the minute.

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