Marge Schott's rocky 15-year reign as owner of the Cincinnati Reds ended yesterday when baseball approved the $67 million sale of the team to her limited partners.

On a day of big change, owners meeting in Cooperstown, N.Y., also voted to merge the administrative operations of the American and National leagues, and put off the sales of the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics, citing the uncertain futures of baseball's small-market teams.

They unanimously approved the sale of a controlling interest in the Reds from Schott, who repeatedly has infuriated baseball with inflammatory statements about minorities and women, to Carl Lindner, who owns the Great American Insurance Co.

The deal, in which 36.7 percent of the Reds' shares change hands, values the franchise at $181.8 million. George Strike and William Reik, two of the Reds' current limited partners, are helping fund Lindner's bid.

Schott couldn't be reached to comment and Lindner, who attended the meeting, also declined to comment.

Owners also unanimously approved a resolution calling on their lawyers to redraft the Major League Agreement, which governs baseball, to merge the AL and NL in all areas but on the field, where the leagues and divisions will remain unchanged for now.

NL president Len Coleman, concluding his job had become irrelevant, announced his resignation effective at the end of the World Series and will become a senior adviser to commissioner Bud Selig.

"The role of league president has become like a Studebaker -- a good ride while it lasted," Coleman said.

AL president Gene Budig, who did not attend Selig's news conference, was offered the job of senior vice president under Selig in charge of educational and government affairs. There was no word if he would accept it.

"Baseball took a very historical step today that it had to do," Selig said.

Since the NL began in 1876 and the AL in 1900, each league ran its own affairs. But the commissioner's office, founded in 1920, has taken an increasingly active role, especially since 1984, when Peter Ueberroth had the leagues move into the same building.

Interleague play, which began in 1997, provided further impetus. Under the change, umpires, scheduling and player discipline will switch to the commissioner's office, subject to collective bargaining with players and umpires.

"Frankly, the system was an anachronism," Selig said.

The proposed sale of the Montreal Expos from Claude Brochu's group to a group headed by New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria also wasn't considered. The team and the commissioner's office agreed Friday not to put it to a vote.

Montreal's situation is tied to a new ballpark. Government officials have promised to back $67 million in bonds with $5.3 million in annual revenue from a tourism fund, but baseball says the financing must be completed before it will approve a sale.

"Everything has to be signed, sealed and delivered," Brochu said.

While groups in Washington and Northern Virginia have been interested in buying the Expos, Selig has said his first choice is to keep the team in Montreal.

"This saga is looking like `Gone with the Wind,' except we don't have Scarlett O'Hara or Rhett Butler to play in it," Selig said.

The owners voted 28-2 to table the $122.4 million sale of the A's to a group headed by Save Mart Foods chairman Bob Piccinini, and 29-1 to table the $75 million sale of the Royals to a group headed by Miles Prentice.

Only Oakland and the Chicago Cubs voted against the motion to table to the A's sale. The Royals were the only vote against tabling their deal.

Selig said no action would be taken on the A's and Royals until after the owners' economic study committee, appointed last January, makes it report. He said the sales weren't approved because he wasn't convinced the deals would ensure the survival of the franchises in their cities for "a couple of generations."

However, baseball's economics are unlikely to change until after the 2001 season at the earliest, when the sport's labor agreement with players probably will expire. The economic study committee does not include the players' association, which is expected to reject its findings.

Owners originally intended to meet for two days but cut it short, concerned about getting home with Hurricane Floyd heading north.