According to the early women’s rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Social science affirms that a woman’s place in society marks the level of civilization.” If that’s so, the level of civilization “here in Cincinnati is high indeed, since one of the city’s most beloved and important institutions, the Cincinnati Reds, is owned and operated by Marge Schott, an unmistakable female. That’s not to say, however, that our local social scientists, i.e., Reds fans and sportswriters, find Marge’s place in our society altogether “affirming,” even after last year’s wire-to-wire first-place dream season and sweep (sweep!) of the World Series.
To put it gently, Marge has her detractors. It has been reported that she’s hard to work for, is tight with a buck, and knows too little for her own good about the game of baseball. Her personality has been described as both calculatedly eccentric and genuinely eccentric, but either way, it bugs some folks no end. A wealthy woman who lives on a palatial estate. Marge considers herself dressed up when she adds lipstick and a blazer (red, of course) to her usual outfit of slacks, polo shirt, and penny loafers. She sits in her box at Reds home games, smoking one cigarette after another, and the locals grumble that all that puffing is a bad example to the city’s youth.
And then there’s the stuff she says. She chagrined Cincinnatians something terrible when, before the start of last year’s World Series, she publicly dedicated the event to our forces in the “Far East.” The next day, trying to correct herself, she mentioned our troops in the “Middle West.” Listening to Marge Schott talk is like opening a package you suspect might be a gag gift: the possibilities for surprise—and their resultant effects—are endless.
Worst of all, Marge has tried the patience of Reds fans everywhere by plopping a Reds cap on her adored (by her) dog, an unpersonable and lethargic St. Bernard named Schottzie, and proclaiming the pet the team’s mascot. I’ve found that people around the country assume we Cincinnatians consider all this canine business charming. We do not. Here in Cincy, Schottzie is known far and wide as “that damn dog.” (During a pregame presentation of World Series rings last spring, Schottzie too was awarded a “ring,” prompting one fan, according to a local paper, to hang over the dugout and scream, “You’re making fools of the Reds!” Well, tradition has its place, especially in Cincinnati, but I think that fan missed the point. The one being made a fool of was the dog.)
In sum, Marge Schott is unabashedly female—she dotes on her pets, mothers her players, and cries in public—and unquestionably emancipated. She meets her obligations, fulfills her responsibilities, and then does just about anything she pleases. When told by city officials on Opening Day in 1988 that the Budweiser Clydesdales would not be permitted as part of the pregame festivities in Riverfront Stadium no horses on the new artificial turf—Marge responded, “They’re coming. They can stay on the 45 percent of the turf that I paid for.” She is at home enough in her gender to ignore it or acknowledge it as it suits her. Usually it suits her to ignore it. And when others make an issue of her gender—it happens all the time; the woman who owns and operates one of the most successful and profitable franchises in Major League Baseball is regularly patronized in print by sportswriters who’ve never operated anything more complex than a vending machine—she frustrates them by disregarding them. In the game of attitudinal sexism. Marge appears to believe that the best offense is no defense. It takes two to tango, and she’s too busy—too busy doing something many men think they could do better and some would give their right arm to try—to dance.
And if she is oblivious to sexist sportswriters, Marge is downright blind to dismayed feminists, who cringe every time she says something goofy or gets openly emotional. A woman of high accomplishment who is immune to the political implications of her female persona, Marge is both irritating and irrelevant to feminists. A successful woman with an implacable personality, she is also chronically annoying to sexists. Maybe the feminists and the sexists should hold a get together to explore their shared feelings.
On the other hand—and at the risk of sounding like Barbara Walters when she whines, “In a man they call it aggressiveness; in a woman they call it bitchiness”—if Marge Schott were a man, her actions, while still being criticized (it is the inalienable right of sports fans to criticize), would be considered charismatic rather than predictable, inspired rather than lucky. But maybe the fact that Marge’s “dizzy broad” image bothers me—and, I assume, Barbara Walters—a lot more than it bothers Marge just proves that she’s way ahead of some of the rest of us.
Anyway, there is always more than one way to view her behavior. If she pinches pennies, it’s because she sees no defense for corporate waste. If she throws her weight around, she comes by the right honestly, having put out $13 million for majority ownership of the Reds. If she is unversed in the fine points of the game of baseball, so what? Is Laurence Tisch expected to know how to anchor the news? If she rubs dog hair on the chest of Reds manager Lou Piniella in a ridiculous pregame good-luck ritual, isn’t Piniella a big boy who could say, “Oh, Marge, let’s not” if he chose to? And in between all those cigarettes she smokes down at Riverfront, doesn’t she talk patiently and enthusiastically to the countless kids who line up to meet her?
Marge Schott is a woman operating in two of the most male-dominated environments in the country—business and sports. Just as significant, she is 63 years old and belongs to an age group referred to by professional feminists, in that awful combination of condescension and pity they save for lost female souls, as “women of our mother’s generation,” as if their greatest embarrassment is having mothers who did not reject their own lives.
Well, Marge is, as more than one Cincinnatian has pointed out, invulnerable to certain forms of embarrassment. She is a woman, a corporate executive, a community leader, and a product of her time and place—and all of it contributes to her public personality, which is exasperating, entertaining, energetic, and interesting, a personality that has added immeasurably to the life of an entire city. As for her accomplishments, I consider them constructive, instructive, and enlightening, at least from the distance of one who doesn’t know her personally, a distance that allows me and thousands of others to call her by her first name. As a resident of Cincinnati, I love the Reds, and yes, I’m tired of that damn dog. But in the final analysis, I think Marge is an inspiration. Janet Scott Barlow covers popular culture from Cincinnati, where, on August 7, after a brief and sudden illness, Schottzie the St. Bernard died and was buried, “proudly wearing her Reds cap.”