Marge Schott, the tough-talking, chain-smoking former owner of the Cincinnati Reds who won a World Series and was repeatedly suspended for offensive remarks, died Tuesday March 2nd. She was 75.
Schott was hospitalized about three weeks for breathing difficulties and repeatedly needed treatment for lung problems due to her heavy smoking in recent years. Christ Hospital spokeswoman Dona Buckler did not release a cause of death.
Marge Schott had two real loves, the Reds and her dogs. Schott treated her dogs like the children she never had and rose from obscurity by purchasing one of baseball's most storied teams. She grew up in Cincinnati and inherited myriad businesses when her husband died in 1968. She bought another car dealership, a garbage dump, cattle and race horses as a prelude to buying the Reds in 1984.
Schott inherited and expanded her husband's business empire after he died in 1968. Until she took over the Reds in the mid-1980s, she was known primarily as a car dealer who made campy television commercials featuring her beloved St. Bernards, Schottzie.
Once she got control of the Reds in 1984, she became one of the most prominent figures in the history of baseball's first professional team, once settling a contract dispute with a coin flip. The Reds won the 1990 World Series, sweeping the Oakland A's while Schott rubbed dog hair on manager Lou Piniella and his players for good luck.
While Marge Schott was owner she loved to mingle with fans and gave generously to charitable causes, but got in trouble because she couldn't watch her words. However her outspokenness as the Reds owner became her legacy and her downfall, after she reportedly used racial slurs to describe her players and repeatedly praised Adolph Hitler despite admonitions to keep quiet.
She allowed player-manager Pete Rose to grab the headlines through 1989, when he accepted a lifetime ban for gambling. Once he left, she became front-and-center. Piniella arrived as manager before the 1990 season, which marked a new phase in Schott's ownership. She became the team's most visible figure as it led wire-to-wire and won the World Series.
While the team won, the organization crumbled. She scrimped on the farm system and scouting, eliminated fan promotions and did away with the marketing that made the Reds a regional draw.
In 1992, the turbulence began. She fired general manager Bob Quinn and drove Piniella away, then went through five managers in six years.
With the shrunken farm system no longer producing, the Reds had to bring in free agents to remain competitive. They had the second-biggest payroll in the National League when they made the playoffs in 1995, then slashed payroll and struggled on the field. They also started struggling at the gate as Schott's offensive language made headlines. Attendance began falling after 1993, when she was suspended the first time for her remarks.
In 1993, her use of racial slurs created a national controversy that overshadowed the club for nearly a decade. Baseball officials ordered her to watch her comments, but she continued to publicly praise Hitler saying he was "good at the beginning'' but then "went too far" and make disparaging remarks about ethnic groups. Facing another suspension, for her remarks about Hitler, she gave up control of the team for the last time in 1996.
"I guess I always thought of her as a tragic figure," former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said. "I think she tried very hard to do the right things for baseball, but she had some enormous limitations and she had some difficulty overcoming them."
With the team's limited owners ready to vote her out as the controlling partner, she sold all but one of her shares to Carl Lindner in 1999 for $67 million. As she left the spotlight, Schott blamed the other owners for her fate. "I don't know what I would have done differently, except for stood up and fought with the boys a little more," she said, shortly after the sale was complete.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig noted that Schott loved baseball, her team and her city. "Though not without controversy, she should be applauded for her many humanitarian efforts on behalf of the people of Cincinnati," Selig said.
Jack McKeon, who was the Reds manager when she sold control of the team, recalled how Schott would give him envelopes with hair from her dog, Schottzie, for good luck when the team was struggling. "I'd have quite a bit of dog hair," said McKeon, who managed Florida to a World Series title last season. "I was hoping we didn't lose too many because she would always come down.
"I think people are remembered for the good things they do when they're gone," longtime Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. "Now that she's gone, they will remember the parties she had to raise money for kids, her involvement with the zoo, her giving to minority programs. She gave to minority programs before her racist comments came out."
Marge Schott kept a low profile after she sold controlling interest in the club in October 1999. She remained a limited partner in the team's ownership group, but had no say in the team's operations.
The Reds plan to honor Schott in some fashion on Opening Day. "She will be remembered for her love of baseball and for her passion for the Cincinnati Reds," team owner Carl Lindner said.
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