To understand why Marge Schott replaced George Steinbrenner as the worst owner in baseball -- and to grasp why she will probably decimate the Cincinnati Reds in fairly quick order -- just look at The Eric Davis Case.

Throughout the postseason, Davis played despite a shoulder injury so severe he risked his career. Yet, in the first inning of the last World Series game, he tried to make a circus catch. Attempting to protect one injury, he took a terrible fall that -- as it turned out -- could have killed him. The blow lacerated his kidney.

As the Oakland crowd booed his "stalling," Davis tried for 10 minutes to stay in the game. Though he could barely walk, he wanted to play. Little did Davis know he needed 10 days of hospitalization (the first several in intensive care), followed by weeks of limited activity. He lost two pints of blood. Not enough to necessitate a transfusion. Still, you get the picture. This wasn't so much a sports injury as a major life injury. Brought on by spectacularly reckless and unselfish play. What was the Reds' response?

They won the World Series that night and forgot about Eric Davis. A dog, at least if its name had been Schottzie, would have been treated better.

The Reds left Davis alone in his Bay Area hospital -- two thousand miles from Cincinnati. No coach, scout, assistant general manager or even the lowliest flunky stayed behind to give Davis aid and comfort. He's only the Reds' best player -- the Franchise. As if that should have mattered in such a case.

So, it was fitting Davis should have been the Red who was conspicuous by his absence in the Rose Garden at the White House yesterday. On a gorgeous autumn afternoon when his teammates basked in the praise of the president of the United States, Davis was finally going home after 10 days in two hospitals.

"To Eric the Red, I wish continued recovery," said President Bush, adding: "I hope our missiles fly as straight as Eric Davis's throw to nab Bobby Bonilla in the playoffs. . . . When I meet with Mr. Gorbachev {to discuss arms reductions}, number 44's bat is not negotiable."

This puts President Bush one get-well messsage ahead of Schott.

She has still not said one word, in person or by telephone, to Davis since his injury. After Davis finally criticized the Reds on Sunday for ignoring him (and sticking him with a $15,000 private airplane bill back to Cincinnati), Schott managed to send flowers in her name. At the White House, she muttered, "No comment," but added, "He didn't have to make us look bad."

Making Schott and the Reds' brass look bad doesn't take much work. Manager Lou Piniella has not spoken with Davis either. "It was difficult to reach him. I called three times," Piniella said yesterday. Sorry, Lou. Pathetic alibi. Davis wasn't out playing golf. How tough is it to reach a guy in a hospital bed? That is, if you care enough to keep calling until you get him.

Schott didn't care enough. But she had time to fly to Washington and kiss Millie a hundred times. Piniella didn't care enough. Even though he knows how much these days of glory mean to an athlete. "This ceremony is about as big a thrill as winning the Series. And that was my biggest," said Piniella.

Even yesterday, as Davis was holding a news conference while leaving the hospital, General Manager Bob Quinn still didn't know what day Davis was getting out of the hospital.

Earth to Bob: Wake up.

But then Quinn's on a bad streak. When Davis called him last week to say he'd lined up a private plane to fly him and his medical equipment back to Cincinnati, Quinn refused to have the Reds pay any part of the $15,000 cost. The Reds thought Davis, his wife and two daughters should stay out West until he could fly commercial.

When Davis got back to Cincinnati on his own hook and complained publicly, Quinn made matters worse, saying, "Eric makes $3 million a year, and if he needs a private plane, he can pay for it himself." Even yesterday, Quinn said: "I've been taking flak for saying that. But it's true."

It's also completely beside the point. The man's in intensive care. You call him every day until he's out of any danger. Even if you don't pick up the plane tab, you ask, "How can we help you, Eric?" You have your doctors talk to his doctors. You stay the hell on top of it. You care a little.

"I got some flowers from Marge a couple of days ago after I said what I said, but I still haven't talked to her, so what good is that?" said Davis yesterday, adding: "The phone calls, the messages that different people from around the Cincinnati area gave to me, that means more than any gift to me, knowing that they were behind me and they really cared about me. That's all I needed."

The perverse beauty of this is that The Eric Davis Case is a perfect example of how Schott and her brass have treated the whole organization. If Schottzie the St. Bernard, on whom the owner is clinically fixated, gets a hangnail, call the Mayo Clinic. But if you feel like firing a few longtime scouts, just do it. (Schott said, "All we do is pay them to watch ballgames.") Or if Eric Davis is bleeding, tell him to go buy himself some Tender Loving Care.

No wonder Rob Dibble was giving daily interviews to TV stations all over the country, begging for some team -- any team -- to trade for him. Half the truth is Dibble can make a lot more money that way. The other half is that every Red knows his chances are slim of getting his market value while in Cincinnati. Schott inherited the Larkins, Sabos and Davises growing down on the farm, used every roster trick to delay the arrival of their free agencies and, it now appears, will say a chilly and profitable goodbye to many of them.

It's almost inconceivable that any major American corporation would abandon any employee -- let alone a key employee who had endangered himself in the line of duty -- in a situation like Davis's. If a reporter, editor or coffee fetcher from any TV or radio station or newspaper at the '89 World Series had been hurt badly enough in the earthquake to require six days in an intensive care unit, that employee would have received considerable attention.

Almost every corporation wrestles almost every employee over almost every dollar. That's America. But most successful corporations also know people respond to more than just a paycheck. Call it common humanity or call it a crafty management tactic, but if you're the boss, you better convince your workers you care about them as people -- if you want to keep them. Even George Steinbrenner kept tabs on the folks he'd fired.

We've seen this movie before. It took Steinbrenner 15 years, but, in the end, despite his enormous salaries, he was left with only second-raters around him. Schott, as cheap as Steinbrenner was extravagant, has a comparably awful touch with people. Thanks to her penury and the fresh example of Davis, it shouldn't take her nearly as long to ruin the Reds.