Marge Schott is tooling through downtown Cincinnati in her black two-door Buick Riviera with the monograms on either side and the MARGE license plates in front and back. She is talking a mile a minute, changing subjects as often as she changes lanes, steering with her left hand, rummaging in her purse for a cigarette with her right hand and noticing everything. "Hey, oh my gosh, look at that stuffed bear in the window there. Don't you love it? I wonder how much they want for it. You know I have a bear chair at home, and kids just love to sit in its lap when they come over. What do you think of this Schottzie hat? I had to look everywhere to get somebody who would make them here. Made in America, you know? I finally found someone in Vermont. You think the fans will pay $13 for it?"
She stops at a light and here comes some guy bopping across the street. He does a double take at the plates and then at her, and he yells, "Hey, aren't you Marge Schott of the Cincinnati Reds?" She nods and waves and says, "Yeah, hi, how're you doing?" She turns toward her passenger, rolls her eyes and mutters, "Don't you love it?"
Ten minutes later, a TV-network camera crew is setting up in Marge's office at Schottco, the holding company for her varied businesses, which include two car dealerships, a shopping center, a brick company, a concrete-products company and a landfill company. She walks, or rather whirlwinds, in. A photographer from a national magazine is already there, and the secretary announces another entry, a reporter from Newsday. The Today show, a German television crew and other assorted news people have come and gone in the last month or so. Schott, 56, loves the press, and isn't at all intimidated by lights, cameras or tape recorders. She has a husky, "Come up and see me sometime" kind of voice, which may or may not be caused by the fact that she smokes almost three packs of cigarettes a day. Her desk is piled with letters. She is speed-reading them and talking to the media simultaneously. "So what do you want me to do? What are we gonna do after this? You all want to come out to the house? My lawn needs mowing. Or do you want to go to the dealership first? You want me to just sit here and read my mail? My gosh, I haven't had time for my businesses at all, I've been so busy with this Reds thing."
This "Reds thing" is, of course, the Cincinnati Reds, and for Marge, it started in 1981 when she became a limited—but far from silent—partner in the ball club. At the time, the Reds were owned by the Williams brothers, William and James, both of whom gave new meaning to the word inaccessible. The team was going down the tubes. By 1983 attendance had plummeted to 1,190,419 from a peak of 2,629,708 in 1976.
Then came Marge Schott. A born promoter, she was and is Cincinnati's own P.T. Barnum—including the animals. You always knew where Marge stood. She wielded her lone share like a cannon, launching salvos at mismanagement. She would talk with fans about the team wherever she happened to be. In restaurants, on the street, in the grocery store. "I couldn't go into the store," she says, "without a little old lady saying, 'Why do this, why do that? When are you gonna bring Pete back?' "
So when Marge mouthed off to the press, she was speaking for the people. And for herself, of course. The Big Red Machine that did it all had become the little red putt-putt that couldn't do anything. And the owners wouldn't discuss it. But Marge would. "I was always lousy at 'No comment,' " she comments. In May of 1983, when the Phillies were in town with ex-Reds Rose, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, she hired a plane to buzz the stadium trailing a banner that read, TONY, PETE, JOE, HELP. LOVE, MARGE. The fans loved it.
By mid-1984, the Williamses had decided to sell the team, which had lost an estimated $25 million since 1981, When they told the limited partners the team was up for sale, it was Marge who came up with enough cabbage to buy baseball's oldest franchise. She paid $13 million. Asked why she bought a team that had lost so much money, Schott said, "You reach a time in your life when you either do something you feel is extremely important—step up to the plate and take a shot—or you'll never do it. I couldn't stand the thought of the Reds moving someplace else."
It is Kazoo Night at Riverfront Stadium, and the Dodgers are in town for the first game of a three-game series. Marge is down on the field, signing autographs and keeping a rather apprehensive eye on her 170-pound Saint Bernard, Schottzie. She has been the team mascot since last December, when Marge brought the dog. Reds hat and all, to the press conference at which Marge announced her purchase of the club. "I don't know why I took her to the press conference," she says. "I guess I didn't want to go by myself. Schottzie's in the program, you know, along with the players. Don't you love it? Look, I figured there were enough chickens in the league. Am I right?"
Schottzie is wearing her Reds hat and a long-suffering look, which is the look Saint Bernards usually wear anyway. Marge reaches up to the kids hanging over the fence, taking programs and scraps of paper to sign. "What's your name honey? Isn't he darling? Look, I'm giving you Schottzie's autograph, too"—and she does. Under every "Love, Marge Schott," she draws a three-toed paw print with a nail sticking out of each toe.
Tommy Lasorda walks over and tries to put a Dodger hat on Schottzie. Then he grabs her leash and starts walking her over to the visitors' dugout. "Hey, wait a minute," Marge yells. She runs across the field after them. "Where are you taking her? Oh my God, I hope she doesn't bite anybody."