When it comes to a lasting position as owner of a professional sports franchise, no amount of money or charisma can outweigh public opinion.
As Marge Schott found out in the 1990s.
Schott was enormously popular, but was forced out as owner of the Cincinnati Reds after making a number of comments about blacks, Jews, gays and Adolf Hitler. She was suspended in 1993 and 1996, then sold the team in 1999 after reports that she had falsified car sales in the names of Reds employees and hid the vehicles at her house in an effort to show General Motors that her dealership had met a sales quota.
“It’s ugly, it’s ignorant, it’s tragic,” Fay Vincent, baseball’s commissioner from 1989 to 1992, told ESPN. “I thought she was one of the most tragic figures I’ve encountered in a long life.”
In the 1990s, it was easier for her to get a pass. She was a constant sight, chain-smoking, signing autographs and bringing her dog Schottzie to the ballpark. Because of that popularity and at a time when talk of her comments barely rippled beyond Cincinnati, there were years of tolerance for Schott, who became majority owner of the team in 1984.
“She was drunk,” Vincent said. “The tragedy is that nobody could deal with that. How could I say to her, ‘Marge, you’re just drinking too much’? Looking back on my time in baseball, there were probably seven or eight really ferocious alcoholics, and there wasn’t much to be done. An alcoholic in a position where he owns or she owns a team, it’s very hard for the others. I talked to other owners about Marge. They all knew she was dangerous, and after I left baseball is when it really blew up. I think baseball did the right thing. It’s really difficult to tell an owner you have to sell the team, but if ever there was a candidate, she was it.”
Finally, baseball acted and she sold all but one share of the team. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Daugherty, who covered Schott, wrote this weekend of Schott: “Marge was recklessly clueless, and didn’t give a damn if you knew it. Marge didn’t limit her ugliness to blacks. She spread it like buckshot. Schott offended everyone from scouts to Jews, gays to blacks. The litany of her indiscretions was comprehensive and impressive.”
When umpire John McSherry died on the field during the Reds’ 1996 season opener, she objected when the game, a sellout, was postponed. Later that year, she said of Hitler, “everybody knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far.” She also referred to players who wore earrings as “fruits.”
Maybe, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver investigates the alleged comments by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling — one of the men who employs him, he should consider calling up Vincent, who once suspended New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
“What she said was egregious, but what he said was probably worse,” Vincent told Bloomberg News. “There’s a question of where you draw the line. In this case with what this guy did and probably in Marge Schott’s case, you’re well over the line.”