When the offensive decide who offends

JOHN EISENBERG

December 04, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

The baseball owners have decided that Marge Schott needs punishing. Let's just say that it's not exactly like the Lone Ranger riding into town to see justice through.

These are the same owners who reportedly heard Schott use racial slurs in a conference call . . .

. . . four years ago.

You will notice that it didn't seem to bother them then. At least not enough to do anything about it.

But the tide of political correctness is tugging them now, tugging hard, so they have empaneled an Extremely Important Committee and put on serious faces and, by gum and golly, they're going to do something about that racist Marge.

She was just a coarse eccentric by their reckoning four years ago. Now, she's a racist. Call it selective morality.

The owners' gall knows no bottom. Schott obviously needs to be punished if all this is true; baseball can't tolerate such pigheadedness. It's a no-brainer. But do the owners have any right to be the ones meting out justice?

Let's rephrase the question: Would you want George Steinbrenner, who spent a year in prison, telling you the difference between right and wrong?

The owners could try to drum her out citing the infamous "best interests of baseball" clause listed in the commissioner's powers. But who trusts them on the matter of what is best for baseball? Was collusion in the best interests of baseball? Is a post-midnight World Series finish in the best interests of baseball?

If ever there was a situation that cried out for a strong, right-thinking commissioner, this is it. But the owners are in charge now, and the undeniable truth is most are offended by Schott only publicly. Privately, they're just glad it's not them in the middle of this circus.

See, it wouldn't take much digging to come up with politically incorrect dirt on just about any club. The other owners aren't as rough around the edges as Schott, not stupid enough to use HTC slurs in public. But, in many cases, their record on minority hirings is abysmal. Their front offices are stocked with people who still believe that anyone named Gonzales is weird.

Fay Vincent was screaming about this right up until the day the owners whacked his head off last summer. Vincent, a commissioner of good intent, hated that racism was still a bitter blood coursing through baseball's veins. But the owners didn't want to hear it. And don't. They're businessmen. They don't care about the garbage coming out of Schott's mouth, except that the bad pub might affect the next TV contract.

But now they're the ones in charge of punishing Schott. Which demonstrates why they have no right, none, to force Schott to sell her team. Much as that would be the ending everyone wants.

Fine her, yes. Suspend her, yes. That's baseball's business. But forcing her to sell the Reds would be, in essence, running her life and money for her, and the owners have no right to do that by impressing their fluttering version of morality on her. She's dead wrong, but you just can't legislate like that on moral grounds.

There's too much gray area. Racism is obviously terrible, but what's the proper punishment for it? That's a question with no answer. Racism isn't illegal, just offensive. The whole concept of legislating morality, and punishing immorality, is far too subjective to be put to use.

Think about it. If racism is grounds for getting kicked out of baseball, what about adultery? Drug abuse? Lying? Stealing? Which is worse? Anyone out there got the scale established?

Everyone's definition of morality is different, see. The Braves' Hank Aaron has been among those out front in criticizing Schott's insensitivity. But American Indians wouldn't mind seeing Aaron become a little more sensitive to the insulting name of the team for which he works. See? Get started on this merry-go-round and you can go around and around forever.

The only solution is to stay away from the whole concept. Schott is a fool, but she's an American fool, and the First Amendment gives her the right to express her opinions. Kicking her out would put the game in the position of having expelled Schott, who merely offended, and reinstating Steve Howe, who broke the law. Sorry, no good.

The proper solution is to suspend her. Don't let her come to games for a year or two. Bar the stupid dog from the field. Shame her. If she comes back chastened, fine. If it discourages her to the point that she sells, fine. Would anyone be sorry? But please, let's not have the owners trying to drum her out of the game. Piety does not suit such snouts.

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