CINCINNATI -- Marge Schott was forced to take the first step toward giving up control of the Cincinnati Reds, agreeing Friday to sell the team by the end of the year rather than face an indefinite suspension.
The controversial Schott, often at odds with baseball officials over her inflammatory comments, has been under suspension since June 1996. The ban was due to expire Nov. 1 and baseball gave her a choice: Agree to sell her general partner shares or receive another suspension for using the names of Reds employees in falsified auto sales at her dealership.
Schott was given until Dec. 31 to sell most of her shares. John Allen, who has run the club during her latest punishment, remains the managing executive in the interim.
The announcement amounts to a two-month extension of the current arrangement that keeps her out of day-to-day operations. It also prolongs the uncertainty over the team's future.
Although Schott told baseball she intends to sell her general partner shares and all but one of her limited partner shares, sources told The Associated Press she isn't close to a deal.
If she fails to meet the Dec. 31 deadline -- she has failed to live up to terms of her previous agreements with major league baseball -- her suspension could be extended.
The agreement leaves the Reds' front office in a bind heading into a crucial time. Allen has negotiated a preliminary agreement with Hamilton County to build a baseball-only stadium, and residents will vote on a site for it Nov. 3.
Allen also must complete the team's budget for 1999 by December, before the selling deadline.
Allen declined to take phone calls. Reds spokesman Rob Butcher said the team and Schott had no comment.
"It's between major league baseball and Mrs. Schott," Butcher said.
Schott was at her office at Cinergy Field briefly Friday but left before the agreement was announced.
Schott took control of the team in 1984 and became president and chief executive a year later. During the 1990s, she took a high profile in running the franchise and twice wound up disciplined by baseball for inflammatory remarks.
She was suspended for the 1993 season for remarks that were "racially and ethnically offensive," but returned a year later. Another series of inflammatory remarks in 1996 prompted baseball to force her to turn management of the team over to Allen through this season.
Although she was able to bounce back from her previous punishments, she found herself cornered this time because of the partnership agreement that gives her control of the team.
The agreement expires at the end of 2000 and the limited partners, who have tried to pry the team loose from her control for a decade, are set to vote her out at that time. They are prepared to buy her controlling interest in the team if she puts it up for sale.
During her latest suspension, she also gave baseball more ammunition to extend her exile. She sold her General Motors dealership after the automaker accused her of using the names of Reds employees to falsify auto sales to meet her quotas.
Faced with another suspension from baseball and limited partners eager to be rid of her, Schott found herself backed into a corner. Baseball suggested last spring that she should either sell or expect another two-year suspension.
Commissioner Bud Selig accepted Schott's offer to sell her two general partner shares and 3 1/2 of her limited partner shares by the end of the year, leaving her with a minimal interest in the club.
"I respect Mrs. Schott's decision and will do everything I can to ensure a dignified and orderly transition," Selig said.