A woman who counts among her possessions a swastik armband and the Cincinnati Reds today was scheduled to turn Major League Baseball away from a myriad of pressing business problems to a situation as troublesome and unbecoming as any on the game's growing list of woes.
With no commissioner in office, no joint drug policy in effect, no network TV contract for beyond next season, no assurance that games will be played in April and the prospect of a congressional hearing about its antitrust status, Major League Baseball today was to deal with Marge Schott and allegations of racism and discrimination against her.
"The Marge Mess," as one baseball executive called it yesterday, was to be the sole topic of discussion when the major-league Executive Council met by conference telephone call.
The eight-member body that has governed baseball since Labor Day in the absence of a commissioner could act immediately to censure, fine or even suspend Schott, exercising the "best interests of baseball" powers provided a commissioner in the Major League Agreement.
If nothing else, the council will initiate an investigation into the behavior and attitude of a troubled owner who yesterday denied some charges against her.
Several baseball executives expected substantially more action, particularly now that political activists and civil rights leaders -- among them the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks -- have involved themselves.
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times quoted an unnamed club owner and Executive Council member as saying, "If an investigation proves her statements are accurate, she will probably be asked to resign [next week] for the good of the game and herself. I hope she does. If [she does] not, I suspect she will be suspended for life. The situation has become too destructive to baseball."
Racist and anti-Semitic remarks have been attributed to Schott in recent weeks. Former Reds employees charged Schott had made racist references and kept a swastika armband in her home in depositions taken for a wrongful-firing suit last December. In subsequent newspaper accounts, she did not deny owning a swastika and did not fully deny having used racist language.
More recently, Sharon Jones, a former employee of the Oakland Athletics, said she heard Schott say during a conference call with other owners that she would rather have a "trained monkey" working for her than another black.
"Whenever the alleged conversation took place, I did not make the comments Ms. Jones has attributed to me," Schott said in a statement. "I would not make such comments ... I do not remember anyone making those comments during the conference call, nor do my secretary or other owners I have spoken with."
The club owners are scheduled to meet in Louisville next week as part of the regularly scheduled winter meetings. Monday had been set aside for discussion and possible vote on the issue of whether to re-open the collective-bargaining agreement with the players' union. The regular owners meetings are now scheduled to follow next Tuesday and Wednesday.
What specific courses of action might be taken against Schott were merely speculated yesterday. There was uncertainty among baseball executives as well as reluctance to speak about the developments of the last 10 days as they involved Schott.
There were indications from baseball executives that the very topic of Schott's alleged transgressions was not to be discussed publicly by the baseball hierarchy for fear that Schott would try to avert punishment via litigation and that comments could be used to support her case.
Many baseball executives have become increasingly reluctant to discuss sensitive matters -- the proposed and defeated sale of the Giants, for one -- in recent weeks because of the impending antitrust hearings.
At least one executive, deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg, spoke, saying comments attributed to Schott are so "off the wall that, rather than paint baseball as wrong, they stand out in stark contrast in a broader spectrum. Whatever attitude was expressed in Cincinnati represents a counterpoint for what baseball has done."