I make no argument that Mrs. Schott was bad for baseball and for the Reds. She was a racist, homophobe, let her dog poop all over the stadium, thought scouts were a waste of money, and generally was a total buffoon who knew nothing whatsoever about baseball.
The point here isn't whether Schott was a help or a hindrance. The question is this: is it reasonable to conclude that it was impossible to succeed under Schott. Is it at all plausible that Bowden was a top-tier, winning GM all along, and that Schott just topedoed him all the way.
The answer has to be no, for two simple and pretty obvious reasons:
1. she sold the team in 1999 and therefore wasn't the owner for almost half Bowden's time there.
2. Marge Schott had four GMs in her time, and Bowden was by far the least successful. In fact, the team was pretty consistently successful for Schott's entire time as owner before Bowden.
Let's look closer at #2:
Bill Bergesch, GM from 1985-1987, had three winning seasons. Never made the playoffs, but the team was always in the mix, and in both 1985 and 1986 the Reds would have been the wild card team under the current alignment (although of course when the wild card came in, they also added the Marlins and the Rox, so we're being a touch generous). Ultimately he was fired by Schott, who unlike the people who run the Nationals, evidently wanted to do better than just seem respectable.
Murray Cook replaced Bill Bergesch in 1988. Another year, another would-be wild card appearance, as the Reds finished in the top 4 in the NL for the third time in four years. Would their respectable but not quite great ways continue? I wouldn't bet on it. Ha! What a joker I am.
After the Pete Rose gambling scandal broke and team cratered in 1989, enter Bob Quinn and Lou Piniella. Bingo: World Series winners in 1990, plus a 90-win team that again would have made the playoffs under the current alignment in1992, wrapped around one team the crapped the bed. He then left the Reds for the Giants while Marge Schott was making incendiary racist remarks about her "million dollar nigger" outfield and how great Hitler was at road-building.
Bowden arrived in 1993. The team faltered in '93, but returned to contention in 94-95, making the playoffs once and finishing the season in first place in the strike year. Then, for the first time in Schott's tenure, the team went into a prolonged decline, with just 2 winning seasons and no playoff appearances in the next 8 years. Schott sold her interest in the team in 1999, and the team saw a brief uptick, winning 93 games but missing the playoffs in 1999, before returning to below-.500 mediocrity from 2001-3. In 2003, Bowden compared the player's union to al Qaeda and was fired.
Is it possible that Schott made more bad decisions that hurt the team in the 90s than in the 80s? Maybe, and just judging by the way she cut payroll in the mid-to-late 90s that seems to be the case. Her famous threat to fire Davey Johnson after the 1994 season "no matter how well the team does" because he was living with his girlfriend was a major blunder.
But also, she was banned by MLB from involvement in baseball operations at the same time Bowden came in, so if he had less support from his owner, he also had more freedom. And remember--a big part of the GM's job is to massage the owner and get her to buy into his vision.
So even if you assume that all the worst things ever said about Schott are true, it's not reasonable to conclude that her presence alone precluded the possibility of a better performance than what Bowden was able to do.
- A friend suggested I post the following basic numbers, to boil this long post into the basics:
- Reds winning % under Schott before Bowden: .522
- Reds winning % under Schott with Bowden: .463
- Reds winning % under Bowden, after Schott: .486