The New York Times may have called her "Baseball's Big Red Headache," but when Cowan's Auctions held a sale of Marge Schott's baseball memorabilia on March 31, more than 700 baseball fans, collectors and dealers filled Cincinnati's Starlite Ballroom to capacity. Bids were also accepted by phone, fax, e-mail, and through eBay real-time live auctions.
Strategically scheduled just two days before the 2006 Cincinnati Reds home opener, every one of the 442 lots sold, with many items selling from two to five times above retail. Wes Cowan, founder of Cowan's Auctions, was not surprised, saying that the results were "within the ballpark" of presale estimates.
As a frequent appraiser on the popular PBS series "Antiques Roadshow," and the star of the PBS series "History Detectives," Cowan understands the power of passion and celebrity. "Cincinnati is a baseball town, and this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Cowan, referring to the unique sale that boasted a range of material from the historic to occasionally downright silly. One miscellaneous box lot actually included a garbage can, and three potato chip tins. "The size of the crowd and the zeal of the bidders were a testament to the city's love affair with Marge and the Reds."
While many remember the former Reds owner as controversial, chain-smoking and the poster child for the politically incorrect, benefactors of her unmitigated generosity will argue that her donations helped far more people than her comments hurt. "For example, this sale alone raised almost $143,000 for the Marge and Charles J. Schott Foundation," said Cowan. A December 2005 sale of household contents brought in almost $200,000; in June, Schott's collection of fine art and Rookwood pottery will be put on the block.
While many of the auction buyers were local, Army Sergeant Robert Roellig came all the way from Iraq, where he has been stationed for the past five months. Roellig arranged for his leave to coincide with Reds opening day. He also attended the auction, hoping to purchase one of two 1999 World Series replica trophies, and a Pete Rose autographed baseball.
Unfortunately, Roellig wasn't the winning bidder on any of the three items. One Pete Rose ball sold for $374, another for $258. Both exceeded the funds he had allotted for the purchase. As for the trophies, he dropped out of the bidding at $5,000, which was just as well; they sold for $18,400 and $14,950 respectively. Nevertheless, Roellig was thrilled to take home a silver 1995 Central Division Champion Proof Set for $287, and three old timer autographed baseballs for $345.
Other baseball items from her personal, if somewhat eclectic, collection included something for every taste and budget, such as: Cincinnati Reds uniforms worn by Barry Larkin - $100-$200 and Pete Rose - $460-$2,875; an Eric Davis warm-up jacket - $316 and warm-up shirts - $316; game-used bats, including a 1990 World Series Black Bat and a Davis game-used bat realized $460 each; a set of 12 etched Tom Collins glasses depicting Riverfront Stadium - $57; a personalized ball to Marge Schott, autographed by Mark McGwire - $1,552; thousands of unopened packs of baseball cards, selling from $23-$86 per box lot; a box of Reds team photographs - $92; and the original artwork for new Reds uniforms and 1988 All Star Game logo - $201.
One collector paid $172 for Schottzie I and II dog collars. Someone else paid $201 for six 45-rpm records, including the test press of Pete Rose singing "Charlie Hustle."
"As evidenced by this diverse group of items, Marge Schott was not what I'd consider a collector," said Cowan. "If anything, she was an accumulator of all things Cincinnati Reds. But on March 31, 2006, her love of the game brought together antique dealers, memorabilia collectors and baseball fans vying for a piece of Reds history."