What a pitiful sight. It was mid-September, and there was Bob Quinn, then general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the Major League Executive of the Year two seasons ago and perhaps again this year, sitting alone in the press dining room during a game at Riverfront Stadium. Terrible seat. Hermetically sealed, down the rightfield line, several miles from home plate. Behind him, uneaten food was being tossed in trash cans as pots and pans were being scoured in the kitchen. Nice digs for a general manager, huh? Quinn, you see, had been booted from the private box he sat in last season.
This was the same general manager who had to pay his own way to the 1991 All-Star Game in Toronto. The same G.M. who was once charged with a vacation day when he accepted an invitation to play in a charity golf tournament run by one of his players, pitcher Tom Browning. The same G.M. who once had to scrape doo-doo deposited by a pooch the size of an Oldsmobile off the floor of his office.
But to say that Bob Quinn was treated like a dog in his three years with the Reds would be incorrect. Because if Red owner Marge Schott had treated Quinn and manager Lou Piniella and any number of her other front-office employees as well as she treats her beloved St. Bernard, Schottzie 02, her baseball team wouldn't be in the deep you-know-what that it's in now.
For major league teams, the upcoming off-season will be one of the most critical in years. First and foremost, the clubs will be raided by the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, on Nov. 17. This is a time for meetings, evaluations, roster adjustments and long-range planning, not for internal chaos. The Reds? They now have no manager or general manager. Piniella got fed up with Schott and resigned on Oct. 6. Two days later Quinn was informed—not by Schott, of course; someone else had to do the dirty work—that his contract would not be renewed. He would, however, have to report to the office until his contract expired, on Oct. 12. Then he could clean out his desk, perhaps clean up his floor, and leave.
October 18, 1992
Heavens to Schottzie, how things have changed in Cincinnati. Eight months ago, in spring training. Quinn was being hailed as a genius after acquiring frontline pitchers Tim Belcher from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Greg Swindell from the Cleveland Indians; centerfielder Dave Martinez from the Montreal Expos; and infielder-outfielder Bip Roberts, who would turn out to be the team's 1992 MVP, from the San Diego Padres. Piniella was perfectly giddy. "There's nothing I don't like about this team," he said in March. Many experts said Cincinnati was the best team in the National League.
Injuries, however, devoured the Reds this season. Shortstop Barry Larkin twisted his knee in the 10th game of the season and was hampered by a brace thereafter. Third baseman Chris Sabo was sidelined by a severely sprained right ankle. Browning went down in July with torn knee ligaments. Yet the Reds still won 90 games—one fewer than in their world-championship season of 1990. Only five teams in the majors won more games this season than Cincinnati, but now the Reds are in danger of being torn apart as Schott looks for ways to reduce her payroll.
Atlanta Brave manager Bobby Cox looks back admiringly on Quinn's off-season acquisitions and says, "They needed three or four things, and he was able to get them all. It was amazing how he did it. Everything he did pissed me off." Brave general manager John Schuerholz says, "Bob Quinn should be executive of the year, not a fired executive. He did the best job of any G.M. in baseball. They had a very good club that was decimated by injuries. It wasn't his fault. He should be praised, not fired."
Says Minnesota Twin general manger Andy MacPhail, "He was executive of the year, for crissakes. I'm glad [Schott] doesn't own the Twins. You can use that. I don't care what she thinks."
Quinn, 55, is a friendly, dedicated—some might say nerdy—man who took the abuse from Schott without complaint and offered no comment on his dismissal. He's the third general manager axed by Schott in the last eight years, joining Murray Cook and Bill Bergesch (to whom Schott referred in an interview in 1990 as "Oh, what's his name"). "It's just not fair," says Cox. "Most owners are a little more humane than Mrs. Schott."
But no owner is more humane than Schott when it comes to four-legged creatures. Before home games she allows Schottzie to ramble on the playing surface, bothering players and always leaving her mark somewhere on the field. Philadelphia Phillie first baseman Ricky Jordan was chased one night by Schottzie as he warmed up before a game. On another night Belcher's pregame workout was interrupted when the big hound nipped at him while he was throwing. When Cincinnati Post beat man Jerry Crasnick wrote a story in which Belcher was quoted criticizing the dog's on-field behavior, Crasnick was barred by Schott from the press dining room.
"The dog is a big, big negative," says one of the Reds, who didn't want to be identified (criticize the dog, and you might be gone). "It's embarrassing for the players; they talk all the time in the clubhouse about how angry they are about it. The fans laugh about it because they're embarrassed. It's like, how stupid can this get? The dog craps on the field every night, and the same guy has to scoop it up. People laugh at the guy. She does some inhumane things to people."
Says another Red, "Marge just doesn't get it. Her only two concerns are her dog and money. We're hoping she buys the zoo and sells the team—then everyone will be happy."
Good news for the zoo, she's not selling. But it's bad news for baseball, which can ill afford owners like Schott these days. The game has serious public relations problems because of escalating player salaries, higher ticket prices, labor disputes, lawsuits and the forced resignation of commissioner Fay Vincent. It doesn't need more embarrassment, yet Schott's actions have been humiliating to her employees and degrading to the franchise and, ultimately, to the fans.
Despite her motherly approach with her players and fans—"She calls everyone 'Honey' because she doesn't know anyone's name," says one Red—Schott is not a lovable owner. Her penurious ways are legendary in Cincinnati, but she topped even herself in August this year. At a community benefit held in Cincinnati, memorabilia from the Reds and the Dodgers (who were in town that week) were raffled off for a local charity. Piniella donated three autographed bats. That night, after the Reds won the game, Piniella was called by Schott's secretary and told that he would be charged for the three bats that he had signed and donated for the benefit.
Indignities like that provided enough reason for Piniella to resign. He's financially secure; he knows he can get work elsewhere, possibly as manager of the Giants should they move to St. Petersburg, right next door to his native Tampa. He didn't need any more of the annoyances in Cincinnati. Yet a shameless press release issued two days after he bolted—the only public comment on the matter from Schott, who isn't returning phone calls—stated that Piniella had always been a supporter of Schott's. What? "Lou had a stomachful from her," says one Red. "He'd had enough."
Schott's love affair with her manager—she doubled his salary after the 1990 season—began to fade during the 1991 season while the Reds were en route to finishing with the worst record (74-88) ever by a team the year after it won a world championship. But the relationship fell apart this year. Schott's payroll had ballooned to $35 million after Quinn's off-season trades and the inking of a five-year, $25 million contract by the multitalented Larkin. Schott was expecting another World Series ring and wanted no excuses, not even injuries. When the Reds were still in the race in late August and needed pitching help for the stretch drive, she refused to authorize any new deals. Piniella and many of his players were frustrated by the lack of action. Quinn's hands were tied.
What bothered Piniella most during the final month of the season was the uncertainty of his contract status for next year. Writers asked him repeatedly if he was coming back in 1993, and by the end of September his ambivalent response was, "I don't know, but I'm not worried one way or another." Early last week Schott finally offered him a one-year deal that called for a pay cut, so he quit. After resigning, he said, "It was a little like a circus atmosphere. I didn't like it. It made me uncomfortable. The players have to know who's boss. Not having my contract resolved made problems for me in the clubhouse."
Piniella added, "If we had turned over like a beached whale, that would have been one thing. But this club continued to play hard. I'm proud of that." He also noted that he didn't think the Reds were far from being a serious contender in 1993.
But what will this team look like by then? The Reds reportedly turned a $12 million profit last year but made only $4 million this year, so Schott is steaming. How much of the payroll will be cut? Swindell (12-8, 2.70 ERA) is expected to leave via free agency. So might Martinez. Two club sources insist that one of the Reds' skilled but expensive closers, Rob Dibble or Norm Charlton, will be traded. So might third baseman Chris Sabo (who made $3 million in 1992) or rightfielder Paul O'Neill ($3.5 million). Or maybe both.
Schott is expected to hire Jim Bowden, the team's director of player development, as her next general manager. He will come cheap, and don't underestimate the importance of that. The next Cincinnati manager is also expected to be hired from within. Red coaches Jackie Moore and Tony Perez, along with Double A Chattanooga manager Ron Oester, are the leading candidates. Any of those three will come cheap, too.
The betting here is that Perez will get the nod. He's a local hero, and he would be a public relations balm to soothe the many Red fans who are mad about losing Piniella. And, after all, Perez's nickname is Doggie.