Marge Schott and Major League Baseball’s Quest for Peace and Quiet

Marge Schott, pictured on her famous Sports Illustrated cover, never hid her feelings.

Marge Schott, pictured on her famous Sports Illustrated cover, never hid her feelings.

No hidden tape recorders were required to expose Marge Schott, former Reds owner and baseball’s most recent version of banned NBA owner Donald Sterling, as a virulent racist. Schott would just tell you, instead, that the black baseball players she employed were her “million-dollar n*****s.” She told her Jewish employees about her concerns over “money-grubbing Jews.” Schott would tell the Ohio County Treasurers Association, “Only fruits wear earrings.” Schott espoused to an ESPN audience that “Everybody knows [Adolf Hitler] was good at the beginning, but he just went too far.” And she would say of Asian Americans, “I don’t like it when they come here … and stay so long and then outdo our kids.”

Schott’s former employee, Pete Rose, probably was correct when he said, “I just don’t think she likes anybody.” Schott was a legendarily unpleasant person. “It is probably accurate to say Schott treats her people like dogs and her dogs like people,” Toledo Blade columnist John Gugger wrote in December of 1992.

But Schott’s racism was more than slurs and invective hurled over the air. It was her hiring practices. There was just one black person in her 45-employee front office in 1993. Her hate was an unavoidable part of the daily lives of those who worked under her, and it cost many others the opportunity to earn a living.

Major League Baseball first took action in early 1993. On Feb. 1, the Dayton Daily News reported Schott would be “suspended from baseball for one year” and “prevented from participating in any decisions involving the Reds for the one-year period.” MLB was alerted to Schott’s remarks months earlier due to a wrongful termination suit filed by former Reds employee Tim Sabo.

In the weeks leading up to the suspension, Schott’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, had suggested Schott would sue if MLB’s executive council voted for suspension, but Schott agreed to the council’s terms–including eligibility for reinstatement by Nov. 1, 1993–and an agreement to attend multicultural training programs.

Considering Donald Sterling was just banned for life by the NBA for similar comments, Schott’s stated punishment seems like a slap on the wrist. What actually happened was even lighter. Joe Kay wrote for the Associated Press in October, as Schott’s punishment ended:

Virtually every home game, the Cincinnati Reds’ suspended owner would pull into a reserved parking space at Riverfront Stadium, get on a restricted elevator with her dog in tow, and head for the owner’s booth.

Midway through the game, she would head down to a front-row seat behind the dugout, flanked by Reds employees, to sign autographs for fans and root for her underachieving team. When it rained, an employee held an umbrella over her head.

And she flouted her punishment. She had a videotaped message to fans played on the scoreboard on opening day. She sent a note to manager Davey Johnson during one game, violating her suspension in front of 30,000 people.

Beyond her continued attendance and owner’s box privileges, Schott was still allowed to consult with the Reds interim leader, general manager Jim Bowden, on “major financial decisions.” The suspension, as such, was almost entirely superficial.

Current commissioner Bud Selig was then chairman of MLB’s executive council, a small group of owners trusted with handing down discipline. When asked by Kay about the minimal effect of Schott’s suspension, Selig responded, “I don’t really want to comment. I think all interests are served by having an orderly process and by having peace and quiet.”

In the minds of Selig and the rest of the owners, a suspension by name only, one black hire in Schott’s front office, three black hires as minor league coaches, and “peace and quiet” were enough to solve the problem of Schott’s racism. But Marge Schott was still Marge Schott, and the slurs kept coming. The “Only fruits wear earrings” comment came in 1994, just months after her first suspension ended. Two years later came her claim that Hitler was “good at the beginning,” and Selig’s peace and quiet went up in smoke.

On June 13, 1996, roughly a month after Schott’s comments on Hitler, Schott agreed to a second suspension. Kay, writing again for the AP, described the suspension as giving her “much more freedom than her last suspension, but much less power–at least in theory.”

The new suspension allowed Schott full access to the field and offices at Riverfront Stadium, but her management authority was limited to “approving the budget and being consulted about negotiations for a new stadium.” In Selig’s words, “She will not have any day-to-day operation control of the Reds.” The suspension was set to run through the 1998 season, essentially to buy enough time to find a suitable buyer for the team.

The suspension was extended through April 21, 1999, when Schott finally agreed to sell 5-1/2 of her 6-1/2 shares in the Reds to Carl Lindner, a Cincinnati financier. According to the AP, the sale allowed Schott to “keep an office in the stadium, a luxury suite and a group of lower-level seats at games,” and, ironically enough, remain a minority owner of the team. As far as MLB was concerned, Schott was out of sight and out of mind, and she more or less remained that way until her death in 2004.

Schott was offered defenses, similar to what we’ve seen for Donald Sterling, revolving around freedom of speech. The Ron Paul Survival Report became Schott’s white knight in January, 1993. “Remember the thought crimes from the novels of Orwell and Huxley? It’s not fiction in America, if the case of Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott is any evidence.” The report went on to draw comparisons between Schott and “someone who uses the Creator’s name in vain,” and compares her slurs to such elementary school insults as “four-eyes,” “smarty pants,” and “rich kid.”

Schott offered her own defense as well, however ineffectual. On ABC’s PrimeTime Live that same year, following her first suspension, Schott suggested she was the target of a “witch hunt” by Major League Baseball. “I think if I had been a man this would never have happened,” Schott said.

After Schott’s comments, any attempt to portray herself as the victim was destined to fall flat. The Washington Post‘s Christine Brennan wrote, “This one boggles the mind, and insults every woman who has had a legitimate claim of sex discrimination.”

But Schott undeniably served as an easy target for the rest of the owners. As Brennan added:

Wait, some might argue, don’t ask too much of Marge Schott. These people say she doesn’t get it, and she never will. At least she’s being honest. And she’s not alone either, they say. We all know why those owners let her off so easily. They’ve said the same words in their offices–or worse. But that still doesn’t wash. When you are a woman in a man’s world, you have to do better. There are too many people waiting for that one big mistake so they can say, “See, she can’t handle it. I knew she couldn’t.”

Seemingly everybody who had ever worked for or around Schott had a story, whether of a slur, of a drunken “F**k the commissioner,” or of a steaming pile of St. Bernard crap left on the general manager’s rug, Schott universally left people sour. “Marge is the happiest person in the world when she goes to the ballpark,” Rose said in 1996, following Schott’s second suspension. “But when the lights go out and it’s time for her to go, she goes home alone. She has no immediate family, no kids or friends.”

Between her lack of allies, either in the press or among the ownership ranks, and the cartoonish and overt nature of her racism, Schott became the perfect scapegoat. The attention was on Schott as a racist figure and not on how Schott’s racism fit into the larger whole of MLB.

The Washington Post’s William Raspberry, a black columnist who won two Pulitzer Prize awards in nearly 40 years in the role, called attention to the rest of baseball’s owners. “According to testimony of witnesses,” Raspberry wrote in December, 1992, “she used some of the bigoted expressions during conference calls with other owners–none of whom raised the slightest objection. That’s not so surprising. She wouldn’t have used that sort of language unless she had reason to believe it reflected a shared sentiment.” Another black columnist, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Terence Moore, excoriated the owners in a strong column in February of 1993:

If you believe Marge Schott is the only baseball owner to have uttered the “N” word, then you probably believe David Duke thinks Willie Mays was better than Mickey Mantle. But back to this hypocrisy involving “isms” in society as it relates to sports.

One day Al Campanis said blacks “lack the necessities” to hold decision-making jobs in baseball. The next day, he was out the door as an executive of the Los Angeles Dodgers. What a horrible thing for Campanis to say, suggested baseball executives in public, before they tiptoed back into their lily-white offices.

Elsewhere, former CBS announcer Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder said blacks are bred to be great athletes. He also said blacks aren’t given front-office jobs in sports because there wouldn’t be anything left for the whites. Snyder was fired, too. After all, he had the audacity to tell the truth, at least the truth according to many of his peers.

The objective of racists and bigots and sexists in the shadows is to hit the Campanises and the Snyders as legally (or as illegally) as possible when they surface and hope the controversy just goes away.

Unfortunately, this strategy works. All you need to know is that since those statements by Campanis and Snyder surfaced during the mid-to-latter 1980s, most organizations in amateur and pro sports have remained lily white, except for some darkness here and there.

Two decades later, MLB continues to be confronted with a decline in African American participation, a rate that has decreased consistently since peaking at 19 percent in 1986. There are just 12 black pitchers and zero black catchers in today’s major leagues.

Hank Aaron was inundated with racist letters after daring to say baseball still has a problem with racism. “The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods,” Aaron told USA TODAY. “Now they have neckties and starched shirts.” All but one of the league’s owners, all but one of the league’s general managers, and 87 percent of the league’s managers are white. Lily white, except for some darkness here and there.

Last March, ESPN’s Outside The Lines ran a feature for the 10th anniversary of Schott’s death last March. The feature, oddly starring Beverly Hills 90210 actor Luke Perry, included many reminders that Schott “loved the fans,” and concluded with anchor Bob Ley summing up the story as “some serious issues, certainly, and some chuckles.” In the accompanying written commentary on ESPN’s website, Schott was painted as an eccentric, a drunk, and “a product of her upbringing.”

Selig was approached for comment for the feature. In a response via e-mail, Mike Bass wrote that Selig “stressed the importance of ‘inclusion and respect’ in ‘the sport of Jackie Robinson,’ that baseball’s actions must reflect its status as a ‘social institution.’” And as Selig wrote in the e-mail, “As Commissioner, it is my duty to look out for the best interests of baseball and to preserve its integrity,” Selig wrote. “We have faced various challenges over the years, though none quite like the one regarding Mrs. Schott’s role with the Reds.”

Selig’s response is utterly empty, devoid of any insight or acknowledgement of MLB’s ongoing race issues. Selig’s response did not acknowledge Astros owner Jim Crane, whose company, Eagle USA Airfreight, was determined to have discriminated against blacks and women of child-birthing age by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in 1997, or that Crane told his subordinates at Eagle not to hire blacks because “once you hire blacks, you can never fire them.” Nor did Selig’s response acknowledge Cubs part-owner Joe Ricketts, who called President Barack Obama a “metrosexual, black Abraham Lincoln” before launching a $10 million ad campaign against Obama in 2012.

These are just the most glaring, public and powerful racists remaining in MLB today. But these targets are not so easy, nor is the public outcry as loud. Recall Selig’s response to Schott’s return to the owner’s box as the 1993 season closed: “I think all interests are served by having an orderly process and by having peace and quiet.”

Throughout the painfully slow and conciliatory process of extricating Schott from the Cincinnati Reds, it was obvious that Selig and MLB would act only in the face of losing that desired peace and quiet. And as racism remains a part of MLB after Schott’s exorcism from the game, it is clear the actions taken only served its restoration.

References

  • Barisic, Sonja. “Marge Schott Mulls Problems.” The Bryan Times 3 Dec. 1992: 8. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Associated Press. “Cincinnati Reds’ Owner Takes Another Shot.” The Sunday Courier [Yavapai County, Arizona] 19 May 1994: 5. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • The Post-Crescent Editorial Board. “On Marge Schott.” Gettysburg Times 25 June 1996: 3. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Associated Press. “Pete Rose & Marge Schott.” Kingman Daily Miner 10 June 1996: 5. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Gugger, John. “Marge Schott Hates Everybody.” Toledo Blade 2 Dec. 1992: 7. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Kay, Joe. “Marge Schott Back as Suspension Ends.” The Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA] 31 Oct. 1993: 56. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Associated Press. “Paper: Marge Schott Will Be Suspended.” Kingman Daily Miner 1 Feb. 1993: 4. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Associated Press. “Reds’ Lawyer Begins Probe in Defense of Marge Schott.” Bangor Daily News 11 Dec. 1992: 93. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Smith, Claire. “Schott Suspended for 1 Year.” Star-News [Wilmington, NC] 4 Feb. 1993: 26. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Kay, Joe. “A Lot of ‘What Ifs’ Surround Schott Suspension.” The Deseret News 13 June 1996: 44. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Associated Press. “Schott Sells Reds.” McCook Daily Gazette 21 Apr. 1999: 6. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • “Poor Marge Schott.” Ron Paul Survival Report (Jan. 1993): 4. Print.
  • Goldstein, Richard. “Marge Schott, Owner of Cincinnati Reds, Dies.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 2 Mar. 2004. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Brennan, Christine. “Schott Could Have Been Role Model.” Bangor Daily News 16 Feb. 1993: 22. Google News Archive Search. Web. 7 May 2014.
  • Bass, Mike. “Marge Schott: ‘A Mouth unfiltered’” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • Raspberry, William. “Reds’ Marge Schott Is a First-class Bigot.” The Item [Sumter, SC] 12 Dec. 1992: 6. Google News Archive Search. Web. 1 May 2014.
  • Moore, Terence. “Owners Should Leave Schott Alone.” Orlando Sentinel. Tribune Newspaper, 7 Feb. 1993. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • Kepner, Tyler. “M.L.B. Report Highlights Sobering Number of Black Players.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Apr. 2014. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • Nightengale, Bob. “As MLB Honors Jackie Robinson, Can It Reverse a Trend?” USA Today. Gannett, 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • Nightengale, Bob. “40 Years Later, Hank Aaron’s Grace a Beauty to Behold.” USA Today. Gannett, 08 Apr. 2014. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • Chalabi, Mona. “Three Leagues, 92 Teams And One Black Principal Owner.” FiveThirtyEight. ESPN Internet Ventures, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • “Marge Schott: ‘A Mouth Unfiltered’” Outside The Lines. ESPN. Bristol, CT, 2 Mar. 2014. ESPN.com. Web. 7 May 2014.
  • Brown, Maury. “Why Jim Crane Could Become Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 June 2011. Web. 07 May 2014.
  • Murphy, Tim. “Joe Ricketts, Government Handout Hypocrite.” Mother Jones. N.p., 17 May 2012. Web. 07 May 2014.
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Comments

  1. Anon said...

    Nor did Selig’s response acknowledge Cubs part-owner Joe Ricketts, who called President Barack Obama a “metrosexual, black Abraham Lincoln” before launching a $10 million ad campaign against Obama in 2012.

    This sentence seems out of place in this article. It is stupid and distasteful to say but falls squarely under political speech. Criticism of a president who is black is only racist if the criticism is because he is black.

    • tz said...

      Gotta agree with you on that. Good article, but this blurb doesn’t jibe with the rest of the anecdotes.

    • Richie said...

      Sabremetrical writers are hugely into the race aspect of the liberal social agenda. (most else of it they can take or leave) Hugely. It’s some kind of socio-intellectual badge of pride. So get used to it.

    • Richie said...

      In sabremetrical circles, yes, funding a political campaign against a black Democratic Presidential candidate is not only racist, it’s ‘glaringly’ so. So if that perspective really ticks you off, any article title that smacks of race or politics you’re best off passing by. I am serious about that advice.

      Myself, I just yawn at it, while finding interest in the historical stuff regarding Schott.

      • Steven said...

        Yeah, how dare this author use generalizations to classify any attack against Obama as racist. Generalizations are used only by terrible people. People who like to use generalizations in the area of politics are bad. For example, if someone were to wrongly generalize a population as all having flawed views on political matters, that would be unjustified. And being a hypocrite is also not very good.

    • Jason said...

      This article was talking attacking racism, not conservative politics. Interesting that you equate the two.

  2. Jason S. said...

    I think the Ricketts’ comment jibes quite well with the article in showing that some things never change – MLB still has racist owners. Being called a “black Abraham Lincoln” is actually an unintended compliment as Lincoln was a truly great man and great president. The part of the article that to me is out of place is the part about how African American participation in baseball is declining. It’s out of place because it simply assumes that this is caused by institutional racism by MLB when there may be other causes.

    • Anon said...

      I think the Ricketts’ comment jibes quite well with the article in showing that some things never change – MLB still has racist owners.

      MLB probably still has racist owners, but Ricketts’s comments do nothing to support that position.

      I do agree about the mention of decline in non-hispanic black players, which is likely more of a societal cause than any systematic bias from MLB. Thier percentage of the MLB player population is equal or above their percentage of the general population. Remember that a large portion of MLB players are from countries other than the USA (i.e. comparing baseball demographics to USA demographics results in skewed analysis).

  3. Gyre said...

    So, this is what NBA fans have to look forward to…
    You didn’t mention if Schott played the “I’m sorry and I’ll get help” card before the first suspension.

  4. John C said...

    “Two decades later, MLB continues to be confronted with a decline in African American participation, a rate that has decreased consistently since peaking at 19 percent in 1986. ”

    Right about the time that every African-American kid in the country followed the example of the most famous African-American sports figure around, and grew up wanting “to be like Mike.”

    Kids idolize athletes and tend to emulate them. The generation that was playing in 1986 grew up wanting to be Hank and Willie, who in turn grew up wanting to be Jackie. But the generation that grew up in the ’80s and ’90s wanted to be Michael Jordan.

    That’s the only reason this has happened. The only things that might have changed it would have been:
    1) Bo Jackson never has a devastating injury, and continued to be a transcendent superstar in the media into the 1990s; or
    2) Ken Griffey Jr. gets traded to the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers, instead of playing his entire career in small media markets; or
    3) Barry Bonds gets a personality transplant around 1990, and becomes a likeable African-American “face” of the game.
    But none of those things happened.

    • Anon said...

      I could not agree more.

      Barry Bonds could have done wonders for blacks in baseball if he hadn’t been a totally unlikeable self-centered racist cheating jerk.

      Griffey’s and Jackson’s careers were tragic for different reasons – one financial and one medical.

      Between those three lost opportunities who knows what might have been?

  5. Correct Birth Certificate said...

    Great article, Jack. Sad that some Americans can’t tolerate their baseball with a side of REAL TALK.

  6. Paul G. said...

    I tend to agree with others here that the Ricketts comment does not seem to support your conclusion. I’m not entirely sure though as the phrase is so… weird. For that matter, Joe doesn’t appear to actually be involved in the team other than owning it, leaving that to his kids. One of those kids is a big Obama supporter. Yeah, I’m not seeing anything here at all.

    I’m not sure what the racial breakdown of ownership has to do with anything. Are you saying that the leagues – and it would be all three of them in the article – are refusing to sell teams to non-whites? I’ve seen zero evidence of this. If rich minorities want to invest their money in other ventures besides sports franchises, what does that matter? And how would you resolve that? Force someone to buy a team? Give a franchise discount? And Magic Johnson is basically the face of the Dodgers, but since he is not majority owner he doesn’t count?

    The percentage of African-American managers in the MLB is pretty much what you would expect by the general population breakdown of the United States. They make up 12% (roughly) of the population, so that would be 3 or 4 managers. There are 3. No Latinos at the moment… wait, Fredi Gonzalez is not “Latino”? Who knew? He was born in Cuba! I suspect this study was not as complete as 538 would like.

    The league office staffs in the MLB are very close to the general US population breakdown, so much so that I sense that was the goal.

    And I am shocked – shocked! – to discover that Bud Selig is less than a decisive leader!

  7. bucdaddy said...

    Maybe I remember my history incorrectly, but between wars Hitler DID fool a lot of smart people into thinking he was “good at the beginning.” Charles Lindberg, for starters. I imagine the part of that statement that seems most offensive is the callously flip “but he went too far,” kind of minimizing the extermination of millions of humans. But as stunningly inarticulate as Schott’s statement is on its face, it’s not historically inaccurate, is it?

    As for Jimmy the Greek, I always wondered if it was historically accurate that plantation owners bred their slaves like livestock. They certainly treated people like animals otherwise. Anybody know for sure?

    • Jason said...

      It may have been okay in 1930 to have been fooled into thinking he was actually good. By 1990, it ought to have been quite clear that even at the very beginning the fascist movement was vested in anti-semitism, hate, violence, intimidation, etc. The implication of her statement was that going too far with outright genocide was bad, but beatings, imprisonment, dispossession, and random murders of jews and other undesirables on which Hitler ascended to power was fine political policy.

  8. Drew Keller said...

    After reading the article and all of the comments, I still am not sure how running a $10 million dollar ad campaign against the president makes a person racist. Perhaps he thinks he just sucks as a President. I know, I know, it’s quite a leap for some.

  9. Marc Schneider said...

    bucdaddy,

    It’s true that people thought that a lot of people initially supported Hitler in Germany for non-racist reasons. But that was 80 years ago before everything else. The fact is, everything Hitler did was ultimately aimed at genocide and/or subjugation of groups he considered subhuman. So it’s really not much an excuse for Schott to say that other people thought the same. Ok, so she is obviously not a historian but anyone with a lick of common sense would know that defending Hitler-whether at the beginning or not-is a pretty egregious thing to say.

    As for slavery, yes, the slaveowners did breed their slaves like cattle. But that hardly justifies Jimmy the Greek. I think it’s a fair question to ask scientifically whether genetics or race has something to do with athletic or other abilities, but Jimmy the Greek had absolutely no basis for his comments. It would be like me trying to opine about how to throw a slider.

    Having said that, I’m pretty liberal and a big Obama supporter but I find many of the comments about racism in sports generally pretty sanctimonious. What a shock to find that there are racists in a society of 330 million people. And what a shock that some of the owners of sports teams have unenlightened views about race. You would think that this was still 1950. I’m willing to bet that we will NEVER eradicate all racism and bigotry from society because racism and bigotry is, to some extent, endemic among humans. So I’m not particularly impressed with people that like to show how progressive they are by expressing their anger and dismay that not everyone thinks like they do. There are lots of reasons that African-American participation in baseball is down; perhaps one of them is the sabermetric revolution that has essentially made baseball a hobby for upscale, suburbanites with enough time and money to kill to follow the statistical analysis.

    On the other hand, I tire of conservatives that, as someone alluded to, complain about generalizations about conservatives while, at the same time, making their own generalizations about liberals.

  10. ***** said...

    You know, the more I read about Schott, the more I think she isn’t actually one of those people who discriminate, she is just an asshole, since she tends to offend everyone and anyone.

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