And . . . she’s outta there. On June 12, Marge Schott, the embattled majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds, was given the heave-ho by baseball’s powers-that-be, forced to relinquish day-to-day control of her ball club through the 1998 season. In an ongoing effort to polish Major League Baseball’s tarnished veneer, the august guardians of our national pastime sent Marge Schott to the showers for the second time in four years.

The catalyst behind Schott’s latest yanking was her comment in a May 5 ESPN interview that Hitler was “OK at the beginning, but then he went too far.” But Schott, who seems incapable of keeping her feet out of her mouth, has been steadily working the corners of the politically correct strike zone since her 1993 suspension for a string of ethnically challenged public statements, including allegedly referring to two of her star players as “my million dollar niggers.”

Taken separately, Schott’s recent assertions that “only fruits wear earrings” and that “some of the biggest problems in this city come from women wanting to leave the home to work” are not that outrageous in the context of Cincinnati, Ohio—or most of Middle America, for that matter. But the obstreperous Reds owner went on a tear last spring, even by her own standards. Schott got the 1996 season off to a controversial start with her well-publicized unwillingness to call off the Reds opener after umpire John McSherry collapsed on the field and died of a heart attack. By mid-June the Reds had fallen ten games under .500 and Schott had gone on record slamming just about everyone from working women to Asian-American immigrants. If, as Schott believes, baseball’s all-male owners’ club is out to get her, she certainly did her best in 1996 to aid them in portraying her as the poison apple spoiling baseball’s American pie.

Schott is notoriously unrepentant about her public displays of stupidity, but for a few weeks last summer it appeared Major League Baseball’s latest corrective action would stick, unlike Mrs. Schott’s 1993 suspension and forced “sensitivity training.” Banned from talking to the press, Schott contented herself with passing out NO COMMENT cards at the All-Star game and even managed to meet baseball’s August deadline to choose a suitable replacement as club CEO, reluctantly naming Reds controller John Allen to the job. (Allen had reportedly angered Schott during his 60-day interim stint as Reds chief by his efforts to bring fans back to Riverfront Stadium, including three-dollar ticket nights and “Diversity Day,” in which the team made available 10,000 tickets to inner-city minorities at a dollar apiece.)

But Marge Schott has never been one to go quietly. In July, Schott was banned from her own ballpark for refusing to abide by a rather nebulous agreement with the National League under which she would take no part in club management. And by Labor Day weekend, Marge was behind in the count again, having broken her silence to talk to reporters about the new stadium Hamilton County taxpayers have agreed to build for her on the Ohio River. Like her ubiquitous canine namesakes, Schottzie (now-deceased) and Schottzie 02, it seems Marge has been allowed to piddle around the field of dreams for too long to learn to play dead.

At first glance, Marge Schott would seem an unlikely cultural barometer of 1990’s America. But Schott’s penchant for boneheaded social commentary is really only as interesting as the reaction it provokes. And the division between the moralizing of Major League Baseball and the news media on one hand, and the widespread popular sentiment that baseball should leave Schott alone, seems indicative of the widening rift in this country between the media “elite” and the American middle class.

Clearly Schott’s public outbursts betray a stunning lack of media savvy on the part of a public figure. Baseball’s argument that Schott is a recurring embarrassment to the game is a valid one. But does Marge Schott really constitute the menace to baseball—and the Great Society—that baseball commissioner Bud Selig and the media would have us believe? In fact, Schott’s disjointed ramblings hardly seem to justify the swift and merciless judgments of the press, as exemplified by a New York Times piece in which reporter Claire Smith quotes Mrs. Jackie Robinson as saying that Schott is “one simple-minded woman standing up to a mike and saying it’s all right to hate Jews,” which Ms. Smith let stand without correction.

In Cincinnati, which has long tolerated Mrs. Schott’s eccentricities, the argument of Marge’s detractors has been decidedly more aesthetic than moral. Those who want her out see her as an embarrassment to Cincinnati whose lack of grace has earned her the opprobrium she deserves. But many here maintain that—right or wrong—Marge Schott has a right to speak her mind. In fact, local sports radio host Andy Furman says that callers after Schott’s banishment were “65 percent pro-Marge, maybe 70 percent.” Why do so many support Schott? Furman thinks it boils down to the simple fact that the average sports fan sees Schott as the “little guy” being persecuted by the Establishment. “Maybe [Schott’s supporters] stick with her because—and that’s scary—maybe they agree with her,” says Furman. But the larger sentiment Furman sees is one of kinship. Whatever Schott’s views, the average fan supports her because “she’s from Cincinnati.”

In many ways the irony of Marge Schott is the irony of Cincinnati, a city which—like Marge—prides itself on its German heritage and its ability to make and hold onto money, but whose provincial conservatism has more than once earned it the censure of some of the more progressive elements afoot in the land. Winston Churchill called it America’s most beautiful inland city, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Catawba Wine” immortalized it as the Queen City of the West. But Cincinnati is perhaps less known today for its scenery than for its efforts to maintain a social atmosphere that some would term reactionary. Two decades after Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis instigated the landmark obscenity trial against Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, the city’s official intolerance of sexual deviance remains legendary. In 1990, Cincinnati earned the undying enmity of the gay and lesbian community and the arts establishment for its criminal prosecution of the Mapplethorpe exhibit, “the first instance in U.S. history of a public art museum prosecuted for the content of its exhibitions,” according to the local underground rag Everybody’s News. In 1993 voters enacted Issue 3, a statute barring the city from enforcing legislation which would give special protection to homosexuals, spurring gay rights activists to call for a national boycott of Cincinnati as a convention destination.

Schott is as legendary for her parsimony as for her arch-conservative social views; but by all accounts the Reds owner is often as impulsive with money as she is with words. Schott, who inherited an estimated $3 million in cash, real estate, and small companies when her husband died in 1968, now has an estimated net worth in excess of $50 million, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. But Schott’s repeated battles with Major League Baseball are hardly an anomaly; according to the Enquirer, General Motors has tried to take away her Cincinnati Chevrolet dealership three times since 1987, citing mismanagement and abnormally low profits.

Thanks in part to one of the National League’s highest payrolls, the Reds annually finish at or near the top of the NL Central. But baseball observers agree that Schott’s refusal to invest in the club’s farm system has the Reds organization teetering on the brink of disaster. And her slash-and-burn reduction of front-office personnel to fewer than half the league average and maniacal frugality off the field (an apocryphal tale has it that Schott once distributed years-old Easter baskets to her staff in lieu of a Christmas bonus). Sports Illustrated‘s Rick Reilly argues, has thrown her ball club deeply into the red and left it unable to market the team at a level where ticket sales can compensate for player salaries.

Yet underneath all the talk of Schott’s refusal to retire player numbers or hang World Series banners lurks an animosity not wholly explainable by Schott’s lack of reverence for decorum and baseball tradition. Marge Schott may indeed be a lonely old kook, but the media have made her out to be more than that, portraying her as an agent—if unwitting—of evil. Which causes the casual observer to wonder: Where are all the defenders of freedom of expression when baseball’s (late-night) material girl goes on a tear? Schott is certainly capable—guilty of the type of meanness one might expect from a vodka-drinking, chainsmoking car salesman. She is also guilty of refusing to recognize that in times like these charity, not to mention prudence, requires that one refrain from the exercise of one’s right to free speech when so many are waiting to take offense.

But where are all the pundits who have repeatedly let the likes of “Minister” Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson off the hook? Marge Schott is railroaded for suggesting that Hitler did some good for Germany in the beginning. While the press expressed suitable outrage at Farrakhan henchman Khalid Muhammed’s justification of the holocaust and his call for the murder of whites in South Africa—remarks which Farrakhan refused to repudiate—Farrakhan was not subject to calls for a boycott; rather he was gently encouraged to move back toward the mainstream and subsequently vindicated as the architect of the Million Man March.

And what of the legion of “gangsta” rappers who traffic in a hate so precise it illustrates just how cartoonish and ill-considered Schott’s remarks really are? Looking back at the controversies surrounding “artists” like Ice-T and Sister Souljah, one is struck by the media’s ability to report faithfully the reactions of the offended (Bill Clinton and the Fraternal Order of Police, in a strange pairing) while sanctimoniously refusing to call into question the “artistic” right to self-expression. Poor Marge, fated to baseball and Chevrolet sales rather than vinyl or the cloth.

Schott has undoubtedly benefited in all of this by her partial claim, as a woman, to victim status. Dodgers executive Al Campanis said in 1987 that blacks were less buoyant than whites; within minutes Campanis was packing up his office and Major League Baseball had discovered a latent sensitivity toward the paucity of minorities in the front office. Marge may be down, but it is still too early to count her out.

Baseball’s moralizing stance on Marge is all the more hard to swallow for the sheer hypocrisy involved. As USA Today‘s Tom Weir has pointed out. Major League Baseball’s chutzpah in casting stones at Marge Schott could only be believed of an organization like Major League Baseball. It must be only very recently that ethnocentrism has replaced avarice as one of the deadly sins. Marge Schott tosses out some racially insensitive one-liners; baseball owners sacrifice the World Series and half a season on the altar of their greed. Schott is an embarrassment to the game? Marge keeps an SS armband in a drawer; Ted Turner, owner of World Series champions the Atlanta Braves, keeps Hanoi Jane Fonda in his bed.

In short, baseball’s argument that Schott is single-handedly decimating the game’s fan base is cynicism of Ruthian proportions. If fans will tolerate the cancellation of a season, they will tolerate Marge Schott. In fact, attendance at Reds games had steadily increased from 14,000-plus fans in 1983, the year before Schott took over as general partner, to more than 30,000 fans a game until the strike in 1994. While attendance in 1996 hovered around 22,000, it seems likely that baseball’s insensitivity to its fans has had much more to do with driving down attendance than any of Marge Schott’s infelicities.

Why then Major League Baseball’s frantic scramble to push Marge Schott to the sidelines? The truth is, baseball at the level of the luxury box is far too white for the postmodern era, and it knows it. The banishing of Marge Schott is nothing more than a wishful attempt to exorcise the ghosts which continue to haunt the game a half-century after Jackie Robinson. In the sense that she is the willing personification of knee-jerk bigotry. Marge Schott is the perfect totem for baseball’s white guilt. Banishing her from the tribe will not change a thing, but it sure will make some people feel better.

Marge Schott is guilty of letting slip in public what so many whites continue to say in private, what the members of any racial group with its ethnic identity still intact will continue to whisper when they think no one is listening, a muffled “we’re better than they are.” As a private club which has shown it can occasionally police itself, baseball still enjoys its constitutional right to free association. But the recent Red-baiting by the white male clique which runs the game and its chorus in the media smacks of McCarthyism in the most derogatory sense of the term.