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Sewing Marge Schott’s Mouth Shut

June 13, 1996

You can’t actually see the thread, but baseball finally sewed Marge Schott’s mouth shut. Bully for baseball.

For about a month now, whenever she ventures out into public and is asked her opinion on anything besides the weather or the value of a used car at one of her Cincinnati-area lots, the Reds owner just bites her lip, then silently hands over a business card. It reads simply, ``No comment.″

What an improvement. For Marge, this is as eloquent as it is going to get. And the longer it stays that way, the better it is going to be for all involved, and for Schott most of all. She had become a too-easy-mark for anyone with a microphone, a newspaper clipping and a cynical bent.

Some people are bound to read the wrong message into this suspension. They will point out that George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner got launched for real crimes and misadventures, while Marge was sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, for repeating the kind of silly half-truths who-knows-how-many people repeat every day. And those same people will point out that plenty others say plenty more hateful things. True. But anyone who wants to make her a martyr should get behind someone who is actually suffering. Same for the people screaming about First Amendment rights.

Marge will face no hardships as a result of this and she will not disappear _ though that’s a trick some owners would pay good money under the table to see. She and the dog still have the run of Riverfront Stadium, the chance to mingle with their legion of adoring fans, and the right to as many nickels and dimes as they can carry out of the place. They can still walk, talk, park, smoke and joke anywhere they want, from her seats near the field to the farthest reaches of the park to the padded leather chair in the owner’s office.

But instead of calling the shots, she will now be like the Queen of England _ a figurehead, a ceremonial presence. It’s a role Schott should have tried on a lot sooner than this.

``There was a succession of events that led us to believe that it was in no one’s best interests _ Mrs. Schott, the Cincinnati franchise, the National League and major league baseball _ for her to continue on,″ acting commissioner Bud Selig said Wednesday from his home in Milwaukee.

This is clearly progress for Bud and the boys club in charge of baseball. What the suspension does is make it costly for Schott to embarrass herself, and them, for at least two years. She is still free to say any stupid thing she wants, but what has changed after months and years of sometimes-comic sputtering _ of spitting into the wind, essentially _ is what baseball can do to her when she does. And in Schott’s case, there was no better way to change behavior than to change the consequences of that behavior. Even she understands the concept of an eye for an eye.

That, in essence, is how they finally got her to go along. A legal fight over the suspension could have run up a $1 million tab quickly. Faced with that, the owner who once insisted employees drag leftover doughnuts from one reception to the next had no trouble thinking of surrender as an honorable choice. And so, finally, Schott surrendered.

Which makes it worth repeating: Bully for baseball.

For the first time in a long time, the people in charge showed some spine, some resolve, and a deft touch. What remains to be seen is whether they can make the terms of the agreement stick, and restore the Reds organization some measure of dignity in the bargain.

Either way, baseball will certainly benefit from the effort. And from further, in-kind disciplinary measures. Only Thursday, Albert Belle stopped by American League president Gene Budig’s office and he didn’t appear to be in a conciliatory mood.

He was there to talk about a proposed suspension for running into Milwaukee second baseman Fernando Vina. But the size of Belle’s retinue and the presence of players’ union counsel Gene Orza _ carrying a frame-by-frame analysis of the run-in that one writer likened to the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination _ suggested an easy resolution was nowhere in sight.

That begs the question: Having seen Selig & Co. be stand-up guys already once this month, would it be too much to expect to see it again?

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