Embattled Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott has agreed to give up control of the day-to-day operation of her baseball franchise for the next 2 1/2 years under the terms of an agreement worked out yesterday with Major League Baseball's ruling Executive Council.
Schott, who was suspended for a year and fined $25,000 in 1993 for making insensitive remarks and using demeaning racial epithets, faced another long suspension for her latest round of ill-advised comments, the most glaring the highly publicized restatement of her opinion that Adolf Hitler "was good in the beginning, but went too far."
The Executive Council gave her an ultimatum during its quarterly meeting last week in Philadelphia: Step down or face a lengthy suspension. Schott chose to step down, but the real difference between her voluntary exile and baseball's proposed disciplinary action remains unclear.
MLB counsel Robert Keihl negotiated throughout the past week with Schott attorney Robert Martin in an attempt to work out a deal that would allow Schott to maintain ownership of a controlling interest in the franchise if she agreed to appoint a custodian to run the club in her place through the 1998 season.
Schott signed an agreement which calls for her to turn the operation of the franchise over to Reds controller John Allen for up to 60 days, then name a new chief executive officer -- subject to the approval of National League president Len Coleman -- to run the Reds organization through the 1998 season.
"What happened is, we made it very clear after the meeting last Wednesday that one of two things would happen," acting commissioner Bud Selig said during a teleconference last night. "If we believed it was in everybody's best interest for her to relinquish control of the club, she would either do that or she would face a suspension. . . . I think she decided to do it for the good of her team and her city."
The deal allows Schott to approve the club's annual budget and have input in the planning of the Reds' proposed new stadium, but she will not be allowed a voice in decisions affecting the daily operation of the team. Allen will assume that responsibility immediately, and the search will begin to find an appropriate candidate to take over as CEO by early August.
Coleman said that the selection of a new CEO would be a joint effort, but left every indication that he would be in charge of selecting the candidates and Schott would play only a limited role in the selection process.
"We guarantee that the person is going to be the CEO," Selig said. "That is something that Len Coleman will monitor very closely. Mrs. Schott will be allowed to approve the annual budget, but this will be a CEO in every respect. It will not be a sham."
Coleman spoke pointedly about baseball's interest in stamping out intolerance and promoting diversity, but did not say whether that might prompt him to place an emphasis on finding a minority candidate to take over the franchise. That would be a hugely symbolic gesture, considering Schott's long history of racial insensitivity.
In essence, Schott will go from general partner to silent partner, which is just what Selig and the 12 other members of the Executive Council had planned. She still can go to Reds games (( and enjoy normal access to all areas of Riverfront Stadium, but she no longer will be allowed to act as spokesperson for the club or take part in National League or Major League meetings.
Selig also made it clear that the Executive Council would react punitively to any indication that Schott might be attempting to influence front office employees from behind the scenes.
"She will not have any day-to-day operational control," Selig said. "If there is any operational control, you'll see something far more serious than what you are seeing today."
Under the terms of baseball's Major League Agreement, the acting commissioner and the Executive Council have sweeping power to act "in the best interests of baseball."
There was speculation that Schott would fight any attempt to force her to give up her 43 percent stake in the team, and even the slight possibility that she might challenge the authority of the acting commissioner, whose dual role as Milwaukee Brewers owner and head of the Executive Council is viewed by some as a conflict of interest.
"I think we're dealing with what's fair," Selig said. "We had to deal with this situation. We dealt with it directly, and any future transgressions will be dealt with. I think this is a significant and serious action."
Pub Date: 6/13/96