Seven pitches into the Reds opening day game against the Montreal Expos, home plate umpire John McSherry staggers away from the batter's box after signaling timeout and collapses under his own weight. The game was halted as the 328-pound umpire lay unconscious due to a massive heart attack. McSherry had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and was scheduled to see a doctor the following evening, but he didn't want to miss opening day and worked the game anyway.
One hour after being carted to a local hospital, McSherry was pronounced dead at the age of 51. The remaining umpires at Riverfront Stadium conferred with the players and agreed to postpone the game. "Nobody wanted to play after seeing something like that happen," Reds manager Ray Knight said.
McSherry's death shook the baseball world and raised the question about tolerable obesity. Many umpires were severely overweight, which was a major concern considering they stood in the summer heat for three hours a day. Soon after his stunning death, some umpires such as Rocky Roe and Eric Gregg took a leave of absence to lower their weight. "It's been on my mind that I have another chance to learn from him now," Roe said of McSherry. "I realized that part of his legacy will be to my benefit and the benefit of my family."
Marge Schott, the Reds controversial owner, was interviewed hours after the pronunciation of McSherry's death and appeared more upset at the game's cancellation. "Snow this morning and now this. I don't believe it. I feel cheated. This isn't supposed to happen to us, not in Cincinnati. This is our history, our tradition, our team. Nobody feels worse than me."
Her comments were universally blasted for being insensitive in light of a person's death. The next day, the umpires took the field at Riverfront Stadium and were given a standing ovation from the Cincinnati crowd. "It's nice to see you're viewed as a human being," umpire Tom Hallion said in a concealed jab at Schott. "With our profession, sometimes it's overlooked."
Marge attempted a mea culpa by apologizing to the umpires (albeit by blaming the media) and sending them flowers on McSherry's behalf. However, the flowers she sent turned out to be recycled -- a television crew had given her the flowers the day before -- and her apology was undermined entirely.
Later in the year, Schott sealed her fate by complaining that Asian-Americans were outperforming normal Americans and reaffirming that Adolf Hitler "was good in the beginning." Baseball's tolerance of her had worn off and she was again forced to relieve control of the team. She agreed to relinquish her day-to-day duties through 1999, and by that time, Schott had agreed to sell the team and stepped down as the Reds owner.
In 2004, Marge Schott died at the age of 75 after numerous health issues. Reflections by those near her were mostly positive, though the juxtaposition between her kind-hearted philanthropy and her myopic personal views had to be noted.
"Marge was a paradox,'' said Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken. ''While there is no excusing some of the indelicate things she said, there was a kindness to Marge that made her a woman of the people.'
"I think it will be a long time before the short-term impressions fade," said former commissioner Fay Vincent. "Unfortunately, most of those are negative. I think Mrs. Schott tried hard to represent her town and her fan base, and a lot of the fans did love her, but we all have demons and hers were overwhelming."