Racial slurs could end dog days for Reds: David Usborne on the female owner of a big league baseball team who's in deep doo-doo

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The Independent Online
SCHOTTZIE the St Bernard may have fouled the diamond at the Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati for the last time. Tomorrow, the assembled grandees of America's major league baseball are ready to eject him and his unfortunate mistress, Marge Schott, from the grounds - and the sport itself - for ever.

This is astonishing since Mrs Schott is the principal owner of the team who play at the Riverfront, the Cincinnati Reds. But while her habit of allowing Schottzie to roam, and defecate, on the field has offended many for years, she now faces charges far more serious: uttering racial slurs and so bringing the game into disrepute. She allegedly once alluded to two black outfielders, her finest players, as her 'million-dollar niggers'.

Almost a sovereign society unto itself, major league baseball is able to investigate, try and punish its own for debasing the game. Last week, a committee made up of club owners and the National League president, was assembled to investigate the charges against Mrs Schott.

Sentence could be delivered at a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, tomorrow. Anything touching on racism in baseball always provokes the strongest reaction. A little like cricket in England, the game is meant to be the symbol of heritage and family - the national pastime. Baseball dislikes being reminded that, until 45 years ago when Jackie Robinson, a hero of the civil rights movement, first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, blacks were not even allowed to appear in big league games.

If she is expelled - the alternative could be to fine her up to dollars 250,000 (pounds 160,000) - Mrs Schott would be the first principal owner to meet such a fate. But racial remarks have brought down others in the game.

In 1987, the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Al Campanis, suggested in a live interview with ABC television that blacks made terrific players but lacked the 'necessities' to go on to hold management positions. Forty-eight hours later, he was gone.

Mrs Schott's departure would be much more significant for baseball. A square-shouldered, gravelly voiced 63-year-old, Margaret Unnewher Schott bought her principal stake in the Reds in 1984, six years after her husband died leaving her a lucrative car dealership chain and cement concern. At the time, the Reds were threatened with financial oblivion and she was hailed as their saviour. She happens also to be the only female owner in an all-male dominion.

A reputation as a sometimes rude but mostly friendly eccentric grew from a chronic amnesia for names and her sometimes shocking ignorance about the game itself. Best known is her affection for St Bernards.

Schottzie is actually Schottzie 02, successor to Schottzie 01 who died in 1991 after seven years as the club's mascot. Players complained in vain about the dog-mess on the turf. She once replied: 'I get their chewing gum on my shoes. They should be happy I don't have a pet horse.'

Her troubles began with a libel suit levelled against her by a former employee, who claimed he was unfairly fired for challenging her repeated use of racial slurs. The suit failed, but her deposition to the court became public last month. In it, she admitted that she might on occasion have used terms like 'nigger', 'Jap' and 'money-grubbing Jews'. She also conceded that she had an original Nazi swastika armband at her home. By the beginning of last week, the revelations had triggered a nationwide storm. In slightly contradictory interviews, the first with the New York Times and the second on ESPN television, a sports channel, she appeared more or less to acknowledge and apologise for the remarks, then later to deny having made them. In the meantime, several more former associates came forward with their own tales of racist outbursts from Mrs Schott.

Most damaging was a version offered by one former employee, Sharon Jones, of a 1988 conference telephone call between Mrs Schott and some other owners. 'I once had a nigger work for me,' she allegedly remarked. 'He couldn't do the job . . . I'd rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger.'

To the New York Times she insisted that if she had used racially insulting language, it was only 'kiddingly'. 'Of course, 'nigger' is a demeaning word,' she said. 'But I know blacks call it to each other, too.'

She firmly rejected charges that she had called two of her best outfielders 'million-dollar niggers'. As for the swastika armband, she said it was given to her by an ex-employee of her husband who had taken it from a dead German in the war. 'It's no big deal. I keep it in a drawer with the Christmas decorations.'

Among the chorus calling for Mrs Schott's expulsion, perhaps the most notable voice is that of Hank Aaron, the legendary hitter who beat Babe Ruth's record of home runs and was one of the first blacks in the early 1950s to follow Jackie Robinson to the top of the game. Now a senior vice-president of the Atlanta Braves, he commented: 'This person has no business being involved in baseball or society at all with what she thinks of blacks and Jews.'

The Rev Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, has promised to hold a demonstration outside the owners' meeting tomorrow, and other black leaders have called for a national boycott of all Reds games as long as Mrs Schott remains. Most wounding for her, however, is a formal demand by two of the Reds' seven minor owners that she resign.

Perhaps Mrs Schott will go of her own accord. 'I will stand up if I feel I'm right,' she told ESPN television. 'Baseball is, to me, one of the most important things we have in America. I've been here for eight years. But I never want to be some place if I'm not wanted.'

(Photographs omitted)