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Rick Reilly
May 20, 1996
The Reds' owner, long ago reduced to a life of loneliness, has further isolated herself by her spiteful words and witless deeds
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May 20, 1996

Heaven Help Marge Schott

The Reds' owner, long ago reduced to a life of loneliness, has further isolated herself by her spiteful words and witless deeds

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"Tinkle or poo?" she will ask.

"Just tinkle," the director of marketing or some other front-office-type will answer sheepishly.

In the sixth inning Schott moves down to her box seats behind the Reds' dugout to chain-sign autographs, hardly looking up except after loud cracks of the bat. She hates it when the bats break, but she does not lose money on them. She has an employee take them to the gift shop at a downtown Cincinnati hotel and sell them. (To show their undying love for her, some Cincinnati players smash their cracked bats into two pieces so they're in no condition to be sold.)

After the game Schott drives the 20 minutes to her mansion in suburban Indian Hill, where she is even more alone: no husband, no kids, no grandchildren, no live-in help, precious few friends, a tiny television sitting cold in the kitchen, the newspaper lying unread, books untouched. She doesn't sleep much at night, despite all the Unisom she takes, not to mention the vodkas (Kamchatka, the cheap stuff). She sits in bed making picture frames to match her furniture and falls asleep, only to wake up in half an hour to smoke another cigarette. Finally she rises, fresh from a good night's nicotining, ready to seize the day.

Because she's set apart from the world like that, it's no wonder Schott's political and social views have not really changed since the Edsel. Over the years she has insulted homosexuals ("Only fruits wear earrings"), blacks ("Dave is my million-dollar nigger," she said of Dave Parker, a Reds outfielder from 1984 to '87) and Jews ("He's a beady-eyed Jew," she said of Cincinnati marketing director Cal Levy, according to Unleashed, the exhaustive biography of Schott written by Mike Bass in 1993). As for Adolf Hitler, she takes a compassionate view. "He was O.K. at the beginning," she says. "He rebuilt all the roads, honey. You know that, right? He just went too far." Two weeks ago she repeated that opinion in an interview with ESPN, setting off a storm of protest, including outrage from the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations, and casting baseball in an embarrassing light yet again. Two days later she issued a written apology, which was accepted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Cincinnati.

Schott is a proud third-generation German-American. Her mother's sister had five sons who fought for Germany in World War II. "She used to send us little Nazi soldier dolls with the swastikas and everything, honey. We used to play with them," says Schott. She even has a Nazi armband she keeps in a bureau drawer in the hallway leading to her living room. She forgot about the arm-band until a Christmas party in 1987, when Levy happened to find it and asked her about it. "Figures a Jewish guy would find it, huh, honey?" Schott whispers, which she does when a matter under discussion is a little sticky. "What's a Jewish guy looking through my drawers for anyway? Right, honey?" (Levy, who is no longer with the club, says Schott had sent him in search of a dinner bell.)

She says she's not really a Nazi sympathizer, although she once told ABC's Diane Sawyer that the armband "is not a symbol of evil to me." Mostly it's a case of Schott not throwing anything away. If a bag lady had a trust fund, her house might look like Schott's: crammed with junk. There's a room full of stuff she received on two baseball goodwill visits to Japan. There are closets full of mementos and stuffed Saint Bernards and clocks with miniature baseball bats for hands, most of which were given to her. Charlie's suits still hang in his closet, right where he left them, and he has been dead, what, 28 years?

Marge Vision is set on the 1950s, and she sees it clear as a bell. She often feels like speaking out for what she believes, and it hasn't hurt her much. While Al Campanis, Jimmy the Greek and Ben Wright lost their jobs for saying one fiftieth of what Schott has said, she got only a one-year suspension from baseball in 1993 for making racial and ethnic slurs. A sensitivity-training course was thrown in for good measure. The course didn't really take. Sending Schott to sensitivity training is like sending a pickpocket to a Rolex convention.

Take a recent night, when Schott was leaving the Montgomery Inn restaurant in suburban Cincinnati after actually tearing up over the ail-American vitality and clean-cut looks of a girl who had asked her for an autograph. As Schott was piling into her junk-strewn Riviera, she saw a group of high school-aged Asian-Americans walking down the street, laughing and talking.

"Look at that," she said.

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