Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott could be suspended for a year or more when baseball’s ruling executive council meets in Philadelphia today.
Major league sources in Cincinnati and elsewhere said Tuesday that it wasn’t clear whether the council will announce disciplinary action today or formally instruct baseball lawyers to begin a process of negotiation with Schott that would remove her from the daily operation of the Reds and allow a person chosen by baseball to “steward the franchise,” a National League club president said.
Acting Commissioner Bud Selig would neither confirm nor deny that the council will take action today. However, he said Schott is expected to attend the meeting and that the Reds situation is the principal item of business.
Club sources in Cincinnati said they weren’t sure Schott planned to be in Philadelphia but she would vigorously fight any attempt to remove her from the daily operation. A Cincinnati source said she has refused to respond to a letter from National League President Leonard Coleman requesting her to answer several questions about the club’s operation.
Schott was suspended for the 1993 season, fined $25,000 and ordered to undergo sensitivity counseling as a result of ethnic and racial slurs.
National League lawyer Robert Kheel, working with Selig counsel Bob Dupay, has been formulating the new case against Schott, based again on the “best interest of baseball” provision and a league covenant allowing removal of any club official bringing disrepute to the game.
“Talk about free speech, but when you buy a sports team, you buy into social responsibility,” an American League owner said recently. “Marge just doesn’t understand that.” A league official said Schott’s comments and actions have embarrassed baseball from Day One of the 1966 season, when the Riverfront Stadium opener was postponed because of umpire John McSherry’s death, prompting Schott to call the league office in protest over the postponement and say she felt cheated. The next day she sent a condolence floral bouquet to the umpire’s dressing room that had already began wilting from being in her office for several days.
Schott, whose approval is required on any Reds’ check of $50 or more, also initiated the new season by cutting off the $350 monthly service that provides out-of-town results on the Riverfront scoreboard, saying, “Why do [fans] care about one game when they’re watching another?” Six games later, under pressure from the league and local media, she reversed the decision.
On May 5, in an interview with ESPN, Schott created another racial and ethnic storm that resulted in Jewish and civic groups calling for her ouster when she said of German chancellor Adolf Hitler, “Everybody in history knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far.”
In an ensuing Sports Illustrated article in which she criticized several of her players, Schott did more gender and ethnic baiting. General Manager Jim Bowden acknowledged in the article that Schott had ordered video taping of players getting on and off buses and planes to make sure they weren’t traveling with girlfriends. She has refused to talk to reporters since publication of the article, handing out cards carrying the message “no comment.”
A Cincinnati official said baseball may have a case for suspending Schott based on “best interest and disrepute” but questioned whether her operation of the Reds was a justifiable cause.
Although Schott’s front office and scouting staffs are baseball’s smallest, her player payroll has been among the largest, and the club has generally been competitive, winning a division title last year and the World Series as recently as 1990.
The executive council is chaired by Selig and includes four owners from each league and the two league presidents.