December 27, 2004

Philler: Schott, Caminiti eulogized

One of many year-end issues to feature prominent faces that passed in 2004, the best of these, The New York Times Magazine, includes two notorious baseball names, Marge Schott and Ken Caminiti, for leaving unforgettable marks on the game, and symbolizing past and present eras.

Marge Schott
Charles McGrath was charged with summing up Marge Schott's life in about 25 column inches and you won't find a better piece of writing on the complexly-simple owner, and her fetid dog, Schottzie. If there was ever a person to base an Oscar-worthy baseball film, it's Marge Schott.

An Academy Award winner would surely include the times she stuck up for Hitler, made ethnic slurs about the Japanese Prime Minister, and showed up for team photographs with her 170-pound dog wearing a Reds cap. But a good, thoughtful interpretation would examine why the fans loved her, the commissioner who hated her, and players at a point in history (1984) who were just as fanatical as the owner.

"And this eccentricity may be her real legacy, a throwback to a time, before the corporatization of sports, when you had to be a little bit singular to want to be a team owner in the first place," McGrath wrote. "Not coincidentally, Schott was one of the last of the owners whom fans actually rooted for."

Ken Caminiti
The first asterisk. Not officially, but never the less.

Caminiti gets a page because he symbolizes a topic that painted headlines this year with a broad, deflating stroke of clear cream. Relying heavily on a July 2002 Sports Illustrated article, writer Michael Sokolove recaps his public admission of steroid use and personal testimony of how the drug physically changed him in his MVP season of 1996.

"I’d be running the bases and think, man, I’m fast! And I have never been fast. Man, I felt good. I'd think, Damn, this pitcher's in trouble."

The rest of the obituary goes past retirement, down the spiral, and finally to an apartment in the Bronx where he died by overdosing on cocaine and opiates.

Caminiti is the both the best and worst example of a modern ballplayer, depending who you ask, but his more damning legacy represents the broken illusion that what we, the fans, are seeing is authentic.




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