When we first started this discussion, a lot of commentators immediately jumped in with memories of their favorite Sports Illustrated Reds covers, some of whom still had them in their possession. We hosted a few featuring the Big Red Machine in the Reds Hall of Fame, and everyone was always glad to see them.

You know which SI cover no one ever reverently pulls out of an archival-safe plastic sleeve?

May 20, 1996.

I sincerely doubt this is in any frame on any wall of any mancave in any universe. It was not a flattering portrayal. After this hit the stands, Marge Schott was suspended for the rest of the season.

It was awful, and, whatever what you think of Mrs. Schott, it made us look awful too. Do you want to know how awful it all was? It was so awful that the author of the article, Rick Reilly, didn’t have to poke around a bit trying to find somebody to hand him a damning Marge Schott story. Reds employees lined up in front of his tape recorder.

But here’s the kicker: She’s native born. She was a third-generation German, just like a lot of Cincinnatians. We generated this monster.

That’s what got our backs up about this cover, this story. There was no defending her wince-including comments or embarrassing owner ops (her refusal to fly Eric Davis back from Oakland after he injured his kidney in the World Series was the queen billiard shot.) What we didn’t like about it was that the piece felt like East Coast sneering, and we’ve had quite enough of that, thank you very much.

It was a lot to take in. Until then, Marge’s reputation with the fans was such that everybody called her “Marge.” We thought she was great. She donated lavishly to charities and look, she has a dog! We knew she was cheap, but we pretty much just shrugged and went out to the ballgame anyway. What were you gonna do? She made us World Series champs, right?

But the players hated her. The front office hated her, and Major League baseball really hated her. Despite her attitudes, there was a smidge in us that wanted her to own the Reds forever and ever just because they said she couldn’t. They sent her to sensitivity training. They tried to take away her cigarettes. They chipped away at her, but they could never quite get her.

Marge Schott was a delight for those who enjoyed seeing hypocrisy stretched to the fragility of a spiderweb. It was like living in a decade-long Seinfeld episode. The same people who advocated for women in greater leadership positions in male-dominated sports had nowhere to go: She had claims on an identity group even as she insulted the others. What to do with one of the very, very few female owners in the history of baseball?

Such dimensions of Marge were what helped us bear her.

There seemed no way to defend Marge while simultaneously decrying her views. In the end, we saw where this was all going, and, exhausted, submitted to the MLB’s edict forcing her to sell the Reds in 1999. We’d had it, she’d had it, the rapidly aging Riverfront Stadium really had it. We wanted our grass back. And the ability to hold our heads up in interteam discussions.

This cover story changed the Reds, which in turn changed the city. We’re still not entirely sure what to do with her. Given all the earthquakes this story set off, it was somewhat astonishing to learn that on March 15, 2004, another SI story about Marge appeared that nobody noticed and even fewer remember.

This piece ran on the occasion of her death. The author was Sridhar Pappu. He had an idea about how we should handle Marge Schott.

The title was “I Forgive Marge.”

32 Responses

  1. Harry Stoner

    During my time in Cincinnati, mid-80s we went to Riverfront often.

    We saw Marge sitting down at field level in a basically empty house and wandered on down and sat in the row behind her.

    She was friendly and garrulous in that sandpaper voice and had a fifth down by her feet that she’d pour (Jack Daniels?) into her paper cup of Coke and ice.

    While chain smoking away, yakking with a cig dangling from her mouth.

    My friend asked Marge for a light and instead of providing a Zippo, she turned her head, leaned over and offered up her mug so he could light it off her smoke.

    Took a long time to shake that image.

    Would have made a great alternative cover for SI.

  2. LDS

    I was never a Marge fan but the Reds did considerably better during her tenure than during Castellini. Pinella and Davy Johnson were certainly better than Price and Bell. Maybe we’ll see new ownership better than both. Soon.

  3. Oldtimer

    Marge had a lot of the flaws that folx of her generation had, and then some.

    Setting ALL THAT ASIDE for discussion purposes, Marge’s Reds team were good. Mid 1980s through mid 1990s. She brought #14 back. She brought Lou Piniella to town. She brought Davey Johnson to town. The Nasty Boys and Jose Rijo became Reds in her time as owner. Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill, and some others.

    Her views were typical of many in her generation and badly flawed. But her Reds teams were good.

    • Grand Salami

      I concur. Also, the Marge and Charles Schott foundation continues to provide grants to many great organizations in this city.

  4. Mark Moore

    An enigma wrapped in an anathema while chain smoking and toting around a loveable St. Bernard. The highs as a fan were great. The lows she generated with just who she was and how she acted mined the depths. And I have to believe those were unfiltered cigs … 😀

    • greenmtred

      The St. Bernard was lovable, but I recall reading that when it made the sort of enormous mess on the field that enormous dogs make, she’d order somebody to clean it up. As a devoted dog owner myself, I’ve always understood that, properly, your dog’s mess is yours to clean up. Noblesse oblige doesn’t enter into it.

      • Mark Moore

        And that was the old-style cement astro-turf so it wasn’t porous at all.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I seem to remember she kept some of its hair in a bag to throw on Piniella? I’m sure he loved that.

  5. Melvin

    At least good ol Marge produced competitive teams and even a World Series Winner….even though she wondered why we have scouts since “all they do is watch baseball games”. 😀 Wasn’t she the owner who tried to fine her players for throwing baseballs in the stands to fans? Thankfully that didn’t last long. hahaha

  6. TR

    Marge was a character and a national symbol of Cincinnati grit during her time as Red’s owner.

  7. jessecuster44

    Would you rather:

    Have a racist, cheap, and close minded owner that put competitive teams on the field and won a championship

    OR

    Have an owner with none of those character issues, but did not put good teams on the field, didn’t seem to care about winning, and used the small market as an excuse?

    Marge said and did some very bad things, and was rightly punished for them. Her male peers in ownership most likely said and did similar things, but didn’t get caught.

    • Doug Gray

      Give me the owner with none of those character issues every single day. Sports are sports. An owner with character issues can cause real damage to society.

      • greenmtred

        You’re right, of course, Doug. What I took from Jesse’s comment was the likelihood that more was made of it than might have been the case with a male owner.

      • Doug Gray

        I’m not sure about that at all. But I’ve been wrong before. Donald Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers for some of the things he said.

      • greenmtred

        I don’t recall–if I ever knew–the respective dates, but that could make a difference. Boorish behavior by wealthy men was more tolerated in the past than it has been recently, though there are certainly notable exceptions.

      • Doug Gray

        Yeah – the Sterling stuff came out about 15-20 years after some of the stuff we publicly heard Marge saying. That could certainly have played a role.

  8. Pablo

    Marge was good in the beginning but she went too far.

  9. Daytonnati

    I so wish I had read this sooner. I have a personal story regarding Marge that happened long before she assumed ownership of the Reds. It was when she was running Schott Chevrolet and Schott Buick. I was a young tech rep overseeing the data processing of the dealerships. It is more sad than outrageous, though some, now, would find it more outrageous. I think Marge’s drinking issues are overlooked. They were serious.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      They were made light of in the article. I think the shadiness with the dealerships helped pull her down as well.