At home, Schott on winning streak Despite alleged remarks, Cincinnati backs Reds owner

December 03, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

CINCINNATI -- It is the kind of night a talk-radio host lives for.

The topic is hot. The telephone lines are jammed. And Bill Cunningham, the self-described "Voice of the People," on WLW-700 AM, flagship station of the Cincinnati Reds, is on a roll.

Mr. Cunningham, dressed in a Reds warm-up jacket and a stars-and-stripes baseball cap, is railing against the national news media, the ones who are "coming into town like carnivores picking over the bones of a fallen hero."

Only a few hours earlier on Tuesday, baseball's Executive Council announced the formation of a four-member committee to investigate al- leged racial and ethnic insults by Reds managing general partner Marge Schott.

Mr. Cunningham is outraged that "our beloved Marge" is under attack, that "big-city hypocrites want to wash her down the toilet."

The listeners-turned-participants are restless, too.

Mary decries the lynch mob forming to oust Mrs. Schott. Joe asks how Marge can be told to sell her shares, while baseball provides second and third chances for drug offenders. Brad, who wants to talk about hockey, closes by saying that "Marge should hang in there."

But Cunningham's coup of the night comes with one call.

It's Marge. From Cincinnati. And she wants to talk.

"I don't think the good blacks like this," Mrs. Schott says of the controversy. "I don't think this is good for our country. We have kids taking guns to school. There are kids trained to rob banks at 13, and these are all the things that Jesse Jackson and all these influential blacks should be concentrating on."

She again admits she at least once has used an offensive word to describe blacks. She says she is feeling pressure from other baseball owners worried about the fallout from her alleged racist statements.

And, in a voice cloaked with fatigue, she declares she is not prepared to give up control of the team.

"What scares me is that these owners are in other towns trying to take the easy way out," she says. "Cincinnati is my town. I think it's my team. If the people here are for me, I would hate to think other towns and other owners could change that."

Away from the studio, Mr. Cunningham beams.

"This is great for talk radio," he says. "It's like having another war."

Welcome to the Schott Watch.

The tumultuous, eight-year reign of the major leagues' only female team owner is in jeopardy.

And Cincinnati, plus the world of baseball, is talking of racism, hiring practices and Mrs. Schott.

"This is bigger than Marge Schott," said Frank Allison, head of the local NAACP chapter. "This is about the country."

It began with a lawsuit

The controversy started last month with the release of depositions in a wrongful-firing lawsuit by ex-Reds controller Tim Sabo against Schott. It could reach a conclusion as early as next week's winter baseball meetings in Louisville, Ky.

Mrs. Schott could be fined, suspended or forced out of baseball by her fellow owners. At issue are alleged remarks Mrs. Schott made -- in public and private.

Mrs. Schott denied allegations made by a former employee that she once referred to outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker as her "million-dollar niggers."

But, in her deposition, she did not deny using the terms "Jap" and "money-grubbing Jews."

She acknowledged keeping a Nazi swastika armband in her home, later explaining that it was a gift from an employee that she kept in a drawer with Christmas decorations.

Also, Mrs. Schott's hiring practices have been criticized. The Reds have one minority employee on their 45-member front-office staff. Mrs. Schott points out that she recently hired Tony Perez, a Cuban-American, as the team's manager.

Day by day, though, the Schott controversy grows.

Hank Aaron, baseball's home-run king, now a senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves, has led the call for her ouster. Others, from Mr. Jackson to the Rev. Al Sharpton to Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, have joined the chorus.

Schott backed

You might think that, in Cincinnati, there would be widespread calls for Schott's removal as owner.

But you would be wrong.

A television station reported that 80 percent of phone calls it had received backed Schott.

Dozens of callers to the Reds switchboard who support Schott are advised to contact Bud Selig, the Milwaukee Brewers owner who heads baseball's Executive Council.

The last 14,500 tickets for Opening Day went on sale Tuesday. They sold out in 65 minutes.

Some in the community are trying to broker a settlement that will include new team hiring practices. Mrs. Schott already has apologized for many of her statements.

"We recognize she is a person of her time," said Tyrone Yates, a member of the city council. "She grew up in a time where these sentiments were widespread. Does she have the capacity to grow and catch up? Yes. The easy path is to say we want her to go. The more constructive path is to work with her."

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