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.
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