Marge Schott: Former Reds owner's racist comments unleashed again with NBA owner Donald Sterling

CINCINNATI - Twenty years before Donald Sterling, there was Marge Schott.

The Reds owner used a racial slur when she called two of the black stars on her team, Eric Davis and Dave Parker,  "my million dollar -----."

She resisted hiring blacks.

"I'd rather have a trained monkey working for me than -----," she said.

She also targeted gays, Jews and Japanese.

"Only fruits wear earrings," she said about players who wore diamonds in their ears.

She thought Hitler was "good in the beginning."

She kept a swastika armband in her Indian Hill mansion, saying it was a gift from a soldier to her husband after he saved his life in World War II.

"Sneaky god---- Jews are all alike," her marketing director, a Jew, said he heard her say.

Since last week, when TMZ released audio of Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,  making racist comments about blacks, the most embarrassing chapter in Reds history – and possibly, Cincinnati's – has bubbled back to the surface and leaked out of the sewer.

Despite her offensive comments, Davis, Parker and Barry Larkin, the team's black captain and future Hall of Famer, forgave Schott.

Why?

She didn't know any better, they said.

WATCH: WCPO's Julie O'Neill recounts Schott scandal with Enquirer's John Erardi in the player at top.

It was a very different day when Schott, a part owner of the Reds, bought controlling interest on Dec. 21, 1984.

The Reds had just come off three terrible seasons, losing 101, 88 and 92 games and finishing 28, 17 and 22 games out of first place.

Reds fans and the local media hailed the sale. Schott had already endeared herself to fans through her popular public image. From the Saint Bernard she always kept in tow, philanthropy for the zoo and Children's Hospital and kindheartedness for children at the ballpark, to the story of how she overcame personal tragedy (her husband died when she was 39 and she fought General Motors to retain ownership of his car dealership), they saw her as a combination of Aunt Marge and Joan of Arc.

Schott was just the second woman to be majority partner of a major league team that her husband hadn't owned.

She kept fans happy by keeping ticket and concession prices low.  She was always in her box at the ballpark, signing autographs for kids and handing out pictures of her Saint Bernard, stamped with paw prints and signed "Woofs and Licks, Schottzie."

The 1985 season, when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's hit record and the Reds finished 89-72 and in second place, enhanced her popularity.

While the team finished second for the next three years, fans overlooked complaints from her baseball people that she skimped on operating expenses.

"Why do we need to pay scouts to watch baseball?" she reportedly said, and she cut the club's scouting department.

Despite Rose's gambling scandal and his banishment from baseball in 1989, the Reds won the World Series the next year, and Schott may have been the most beloved owner in baseball among her team's fans.

They didn't seem to mind her chain-smoking and they didn't know that she was a drunk – or they didn't care –  and they overlooked her public embarrassments, like the time she grabbed the mic before the opening game of the World Series.

She wanted to dedicate the game to the military fighting in Desert Storm in the Middle East, but she was drunk, commissioner Fay Vincent later said, and she screwed it up, saying Middle West instead, then made it worse by correcting herself and calling it the Far East.

Schott's image really started to crumble the next year, when a wrongful-firing lawsuit by controller Tim Sabo showed the public her private side and exposed her racial slurs.

Baseball fined her after an investigation and suspended her for the 1993 season.

Schott was her own worst enemy. Her words and deeds exposed her as selfish and arrogant, even when it didn't pertain to race.

She fired manager Davey Johnson after he led the Reds to the NL Championship Series in 1995 because she disapproved of Johnson living with his fiancée before they got married.

When home plate umpire John McSherry collapsed on the field and died in the first inning on Opening Day 1996, Schott complained when the game was canceled.

"I don't believe it. I feel cheated," she said within earshot of a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter.

A month later, she made the Hitler comment, ridiculed Japanese in Sports Illustrated and said she didn't like Asian-Americans "outdoing our kids" in school.

Sports Illustrated called her the "Red Menace." The New York Times called her "Baseball's Big Red Headache."

Baseball banned her through 1998, and she sold controlling interest to Carl Lindner in 1999.

Many saw Schott, born in 1928, as a product of her era and personal relationships. She grew up during World War II and the civil rights movement of the 1960s apparently had no positive effect on her.

Others blamed her alcoholism.

"She'd say things and do things I think were viewed as irresponsible and now she has to deal with the consequences," Larkin said after her second suspension in 1996. 

"Nobody forced Marge to say what she said. Nobody forced Marge to do what she does."

"It's unfortunate that it happened because, I mean, she's not a bad person," Davis said then, while he was making a comeback with the Reds after injuries set back his career. "I've had some difficult times with her but I've learned to live, forget, don't hold no grudges. That's why I'm back in this uniform."

"At no time did I feel she was a racist, that she was a bigot," Larkin said years later.

Schott's life-long chain smoking led to pneumonia and breathing problems. She died in 2004 at the age of 75.

Mike Bass, a former Cincinnati Post sportswriter who wrote the book, "Marge Schott Unleashed," told a story from Parker.

"When I was coaching with the Cardinals, I'm standing at the hitting cage critiquing swings and running hitting, and I felt this little warm, soft hand grab me by my hand, and I looked down, and it was Mrs. Schott," Parker said. "I think that was her way of saying she was sorry. How can you stay mad at this little old lady?"

Last month, Bass wrote an article for ESPN.com marking the 10th anniversary of Schott's death. By coincidence, part of the article dealt with how Schott – or a Sterling - might be treated in today's era of TMZ, Twitter and social media.

"She couldn't have survived today," said attorney Robert Bennett, who negotiated Schott's first MLB suspension.

"We live in an era that's much more politically correct … And people are much less forgiving. So my guess is, an educated guess is, that I could not have gotten the same result if all that was going on today."

"Now I think that Marge Schott today would be shut down," Vincent said. "I think the press would make mincemeat of her. I think baseball would intervene the way they did."

Bass wrote:

"If there is another Marge Schott-type incident, perhaps sports can learn from hers."

Perhaps the NBA can.

Its new commissioner, Adam Sliver, will hold a news conference Tuesday to announce how the league will deal with Sterling. Players and fellow owners are showing no tolerance for Sterling's comments.

UPDATE: NBA bans Sterling for life
RELATED: Sterling's girlfriend at center of scandal

"I'm obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views," Bulls great now Charlotte owner Michael Jordan said. "I'm confident that Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly."

"He's got to come down hard," Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said.

Baseball learned its lesson the Schott way.

Commissioner Bud Selig, commenting for Bass' article, said in an email: 

"As Commissioner, it is my duty to look out for best interests of baseball and to preserve its integrity. We have faced various challenges over the years, though none quite like the one regarding Mrs. Schott's role with the Reds."

RELATED: Read Mike Bass' article on ESPN.com

 

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