An Owner and Her Dog: Marge Schott’s Pet Carries Major League Clout
CINCINNATI (AP) _ The three unwritten rules for Cincinnati Reds employees: never waste office supplies; never question the owner; and NEVER say anything bad about the dog.
Violating the first two rules risks a reprimand. Violating the last risks permanent residence in Marge Schott’s doghouse.
Since she took the team over in 1984, Schott has turned it into Schottzie’s showcase. No animals have had greater clout in major league sports than the late St. Bernard and its drooling successor, Schottzie 02.
Managerial candidates lose points if they don’t gush over the dog. Players are scorned if they object to Schottzie relieving herself on the field. Front-office employees get blistered when the media makes light of the animal’s antics.
Even those who try to steer clear can’t avoid the inevitable. Sooner or later, every Reds player, employee and fan has to deal with the dog.
``This would be a bad place to be allergic to dog hair,″ outfielder Ron Gant said.
Players get sniffed during warm-ups and rubbed with dog hair during losing streaks. The manager has been prodded into wearing dog hair in his cap. At the owner’s behest, the general manager has walked through the clubhouse, flinging tufts of hair at players for good luck.
``We’re used to it,″ outfielder Reggie Sanders said. ``We’ve been dealing with it since day one.″
It doesn’t end with the players. Employees’ benefit books are stamped with a pawprint (their paychecks were, too, until this year) _ a not-so-subtle reminder of who’s in charge. The scoreboard says ``WOOF! WOOF!″ every time the home team scores.
Promotions revolve around the dog. The Reds sell droopy-eared Schottzie hats for $13 at their gift shop and gave away a Schottzie card along with player cards on baseball card day. The dog is front-and-center in team photos.
The dog has so much clout that the general manager and top two public relations employees listed the names of their dogs in their media-guide biographies this year _ the best way to curry favor with the boss.
And the dog has been center stage for some of the most memorable moments in recent franchise history:
_ Schottzie put her own mark on the 1990 division championship celebration by squatting during a victory lap with Schott and manager Lou Piniella and answering nature’s call while fans cheered.
_ Schottzie’s death in 1991 prompted the owner to hold a post-game news conference.
_ And the owner decided to return to baseball after her one-season suspension by throwing on on-field birthday party for Schottzie 02.
The dog, the dog, the dog ...
Dog Hair and Other Parts
Schott’s first big television appearance launched the legend of Schottzie. The St. Bernard accompanied her for a May 1986 spot on ``Late Night With David Letterman.″
Schott babbled on about the dog’s wedding, its mating and its nipples, prompting Letterman _ a dog lover himself _ to utter: ``I don’t want to hear any more about your damn dog. I’m sorry I brought the whole silliness up.″
The derision didn’t dissuade Schott from promoting the dog. The club printed Schottzie calendars, put the dog’s photo in the media guide and even held a ``Pet Appreciation Night.″
It become part of the team’s lore in 1990, when Schott decided to rub Schottzie hair on Piniella for good luck. The team led wire-to-wire and went on to take the World Series, with Schott making sure a bag of hair was available for pre-game Piniella dustings.
``The first time I did it, I’m sure he said: `Boy, I’m working for a real nut now,′ ″ Schott said. ``Lou has to put up with it. He has no choice.″
When the team handed out World Series rings on opening day 1991, Schottzie got a replica.
Put to Peace
Schottzie _ a German name that means ``Sweetheart″ _ also made big news when she died in 1991. The Reds passed out a release in the middle of a game announcing that the dog had been ``put to peace,″ buried with a Reds cap in Schott’s yard.
Schott held a news conference after the game and said: ``Pets are always there for you. They never ask for anything. They never ask for a raise. They’re very special.″
02 Gets Booted
Schottzie’s successor _ known as ``02″ _ arrived a year later and received the same royal treatment. She also caused trouble with the players, the National League and baseball’s ruling executive council.
Schott let the dog run loose on the field before games. The frisky puppy stole equipment and tripped players trying to jog. The grounds crew had to clean up after it, leaving wet spots on the field.
Reds pitcher Tim Belcher became so angry at the dog’s intrusions that he publicly criticized it _ a daring move.
``She loves her dog and the ballteam. But if you took a poll in this clubhouse, I don’t think you’d find many guys who see the same entertainment value in Schottzie running around the field,″ Belcher told The Cincinnati Post.
An incensed Schott banned the reporter, Jerry Crasnick, from the dining room the next day. In response, Belcher ordered pizza and sandwiches sent to the press box.
The message was clear: Don’t criticize the dog.
Other players complained privately about the dog, forcing baseball to put its foot down. The dog was no longer allowed to run loose on the field.
``There were numerous complaints from the players about dogs running around on the field,″ said Rich Levin, spokesman for the commissioner’s office.
Just one dog, actually. But that was enough.
Woofs and Licks
Schott also got banned one season for racial slurs and decided her return to the field should coincide with a birthday party for the dog.
Before an exhibition against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Plant City, Fla., in March 1994, Schott arrived with the dog in a limousine. A birthday cake was brought onto the field. Schott scooped some icing off the cake with her finger, let Schottzie 02 lick some, then stuck the finger to her mouth and licked the rest off.
The team played ``Happy Birthday″ over the public address system, but the crowd didn’t join in. Most felt like Pirates manager Jim Leyland, who was kidded before the game about having to sing to the dog.
``I ain’t singing happy birthday to no dog,″ Leyland said.
An angry Schott blamed front-office employees, saying it was their fault the party wasn’t a bigger hit.
Schottzie and Doggie
Leyland could speak out. Those who manage for Schott have to muzzle themselves on the subject of the dog.
Pete Rose, the most adept at dealing with the owner, realized the dog’s importance when he talked about the team’s playoff chances in 1988.
``Someday we will dance in the streets of Cincinnati together, Marge and I,″ Rose said. ``We will drown each other in champagne in front of the whole city. And it will be one of those parties that even Schottzie can go to.″
A year later, Rose was banned from baseball for gambling. His photograph on the wall outside the clubhouse was replaced by one of Schott and the dog.
When the Reds got around to choosing Piniella’s replacement after the 1992 season, candidates were asked how they would deal with the dog on the field. Coach Tony Perez _ nicknamed ``Doggie″ _ was diplomatic.
``I said the same thing I’ve said before: The dog is the owner’s dog,″ Perez said. ``We’ll have to figure out how we can get the dog on the field and not interfere with the players.″
Right answer. He got the job.
``I’m so glad we named Doggie,″ Schott said. ``Schottzie 02 isn’t hurt now.″
Davey in the Doghouse
Perez was dumped 44 games into his rookie season and Davey Johnson took over. His inexperience in dog matters became apparent when Schott passed a handwritten note to him during one of his first games at Riverfront Stadium.
Players around Johnson smiled as he opened the note and tried to decipher it.
``I guess everyone knew what was going on but me,″ Johnson said. ``I read it and it wasn’t really from Marge, as far as I could tell. It said, `Good luck. We need a win.′ And it was signed by what looked like a dog’s footprint.″
Later that season, Johnson learned about another duty expected of Schott’s managers: holding the dog while the team picture is snapped.
``The dog didn’t like to be in that picture, I know that. She wanted to be somewhere else, and kind of let it be known,″ Johnson said. ``Maybe I should be thankful I didn’t get bit.″
Johnson found out just where he stood with Schott when she refused to give him more than a one-year contract extension before this season. He’s scheduled to be replaced by Ray Knight next year even though the Reds have won the NL Central.
Johnson’s in the doghouse and he knows it.
When the Reds failed to clinch the division on their last homestand, depriving Johnson of the opportunity for a victory lap with the dog, he figured it was just as well. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with a dog mess.
``She’d make me clean it up,″ he said.
Once in the doghouse, always in the doghouse.
End Adv For Weekend Editions Sept. 30-Oct. 1