Saturday, October 02, 1999

Schott: A 'heartbreaking' end

While Reds vie for playoffs, she steps aside, a virtual outsider

The Cincinnati Enquirer

On her last day as Reds CEO, Marge Schott reflects on her tenure.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        She had just returned from a get-together with some former Sacred Heart classmates. Marge Schott was trying to make the best of a day she called “heartbreaking.” Friday officially ended her reign as majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds.

        Carl Lindner is the new CEO; Mrs. Schott is a limited partner.

        “Don't call it a big day, honey,” she said. “It's a sad day. You know, 15 years of my life have been given to the Reds. ... I'm gonna miss it very much. But I'm still gonna be there for the fans.”

        The paperwork was completed Thursday on a deal approved Sept. 15 by Major League Baseball owners.

        On Friday, close to $68 million was wire-transferred into several different accounts owned by Mrs. Schott, her attorney Frank J. Kelley said.

        Mrs. Schott, 71, was as upbeat as she could be. She was nostalgic, if not a bit resigned. (“If you've got to sell, you've got to sell,' she said.)

        It is a bittersweet time, with the Reds vying for a playoff berth and Mrs. Schott a virtual outsider.

        She retains her seats at Cinergy Field, a luxury suite and one ownership share but not her office. She will never again be involved in the team's day-to-day business.

        “The players were like having sons,” she said. “I've always been very close to the wives. I guess the thing that meant the most to me in baseball was the fans and all the children that came down to the stadium, and I still hope to see them.”

        Mrs. Schott's Schottco Corp. office downtown is filled with Reds and baseball paraphernalia. She sat in a black leather chair Friday, flanked by her attorney, patiently answering questions.

        Were you good for baseball and the Reds?

        “I don't want to say that myself, honey,” she said. “I think I tried my best, I really do. When I came in, there wasn't much attendance ... I was able to survive 15 years and turn the Reds around financially and ... also we had some wins. I don't think a lot

        of owners have ever won the World Series (she did in 1990) — although I got reprimanded for sweeping. But I couldn't help that.

        “I'm not too ashamed of what we've accomplished.”

        Any sense of relief?

        “Not really, honey, no,” Mrs. Schott said. “I very seldom ever sell anything. Very seldom.”

        Anything you wish you would've done differently?

        “Not really, honey,” Mrs. Schott said. “Maybe stood up to the boys a couple of years ago. But I don't know.”

        Mr. Kelley, a former attorney general of Michigan, jumped in, saying, “We all have a few regrets in life and Mrs. Schott is only human.”

        Was this whole process unfair?

        “No comment,” she said, then continued: “I've been in a boys' world ever since my husband died. We were raised the old-fashioned way; my dad used to ring a bell for my mother. We were raised to stand behind your man. But when Charlie died it was very difficult ... ”

        Did you ever, even for one second, feel that you fit in the “boys' world?”

        “I always felt kind of — when I went to the (baseball owners) meetings — I wasn't really comfortable,” she said. “If you were one-on-one with them, they was great.”

        A limited partner since 1981, Mrs. Schott bought controlling interest in the Reds in '84. “It was around Christmastime and nobody seemed to step up to the plate,” she said. “I guess at Christmastime, you know how women do, they go out and spend money, and that's when I said, "OK, I'll buy the team.' I don't know if that was so smart or not.”

        Mrs. Schott said she never took a salary from the Reds and paid her expenses out of her own pocket.

        It has been a sometimes turbulent 15 years during which she has offended players, employees, fans and fellow owners with her use of racial slurs and other insensitive remarks.

        Mrs. Schott was twice suspended, and baseball officials have been trying to get her to sell the team for two years.

        She always has stood out. When owners were voting to end the 1994 season before the playoffs and World Series, Mrs. Schott was a minority voice, standing up in front of her fellow owners and saying, “Guys, we should have the playoffs and the World Series and then go to battle.”

        “I really kind of think that would've been the right thing to do,” she said. “I think that really embittered a lot of the fans. It wasn't easy to stand up ... in front of all those guys. (But) I had to stand up and do what was in my heart.”

        The fans — especially the kids — have always been the best part for Mrs. Schott.

        When asked about her legacy and how she will be thought of, Mrs. Schott said, “I hope the fans understand how I've felt about them.”

        Mr. Lindner, a friend to Mrs. Schott, said in a statement released Friday by the Reds: “I've known her for a long time, including her many years as an owner of the Reds. She has always kept the fans first in her mind. For that, all of Cincinnati should thank her and join me in wishing her the very best.”

        “The bottom line is she did bring winning teams to Cincinnati under her ownership, including a World Series,” said Steve Schott, Mrs. Schott's cousin and a former Reds executive vice president (1988-91). “Based on the play of this season, the next couple of games could mean we're in it again. It would be an nice tribute to her to win another World Series.”


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