The sports world has seen its fair share of unlikeable owners over the years. Late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was long vilified for the way he ran the Evil Empire. In Cleveland, Art Modell was public enemy No.1 for many years after he moved the Browns to Baltimore, where they became the Ravens. But we can all agree that the worst person to ever own an American sports team is former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott.
Schott was born into a wealthy family and grew up to marry a wealthy man. Sadly, she was widowed at age 39, but the money and business interests she inherited from her late husband allowed her to buy a minority interest in the Reds. In 1984, she turned her minority interest in the Reds into controlling ownership of the team for $11million, unfathomably cheap by today’s standards.
With her purchase of the Reds, Schott became the first woman to own a major league team. She also became the team’s President and CEO in 1985 and was at the helm when the Reds won the World Series in 1990, the franchise’s last championship and World Series appearance. Schott was also well liked by the people of Cincinnati. Unlike other owners who sat in private boxes, Schott would sit in regular seats and often sign autographs for fans. She also helped keep ticket prices low and offered ballpark hot dogs for just $1.
But despite a brief period of success, Schott knew little about owning a major league team. She was notoriously cheap, not wanting to spend money to help improve the team, to the extent that Schott didn’t like or understand the importance of hiring scouts. At one point, Schott tried to save money by turning off the out of town scoreboard at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.
She would even complain about having to continue paying players on the disabled list as if she were the only employer in America who offered workers sick days. Reports of disgruntled employees in the front office were common during Schott’s time as owner. She even upset some of the players for allowing her dogs to run around Riverfront Stadium as if it were a giant yard, even pooping on the field at times.
“It’s kind of a circus atmosphere, but you do your job. The only thing I don’t like is when the dog takes a crap at shortstop because I might have to dive into that s**t.”
Aside from being cheap, Schott’s ineptitude when it came to baseball matters also prevented the Reds from succeeding. Midway through the 1995 season, she announced that manager Davey Johnson would be fired after the season regardless of results on the field. Schott apparently had a problem with Johnson living with his fiancée before the two were married. Johnson led the Reds to a division title and a trip to the NLCS that season but was still fired.
While some of this may seem harmless, Schott had a dark side that ultimately got her in a heap of trouble. She was a suspected racist, allegedly calling several black players on the Reds “million-dollar ni**ers.” There were also reports that Schott had an unwritten policy against hiring African Americans to work in the team’s front office. On one occasion, an Oakland Athletics executive overheard Schott saying that she’d rather hire a trained monkey than a black person.
“He was O.K. at the beginning. He rebuilt all the roads, honey. You know that, right? He just went too far.”
Marge Schott on Adolf Hitler
There are also reasons to believe that Schott was anti-semitic. She owned a swastika armband that she claimed had been a gift from a former employee. Even if that story checked out, the employee must have had a reason for believing that Schott would enjoy such a present. Years later, Schott would make controversial comments about Adolf Hitler. She would also discuss a meeting she had with the Japanese Prime Minister in a racist accent.
“The true measure of a person is whether he or she leaves a place better than he or she found it. Is Cincinnati better for having raised and rooted Marge Schott? Yeah. Probably. Good Marge competed with Bad Marge, daily.”
-Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati Enquirer
Ultimately, her questionable statements and accusations from employees earned Schott two separate bans from running day-to-day operations with the Reds. Upon facing a third such ban, Schott sold controlling interest of the team in 1999. When she passed away in 2004, the city of Cincinnati mourned her. However, the rest of the sports world remembers her as a mean old lady and arguably the most contemptuous owner in American sports.