By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI -- When John Allen was handed control of the Cincinnati Reds in 1996, suspended owner Marge Schott referred to him as her bookkeeper. In short time, he proved he wouldn't be her caretaker.
Overnight, Allen went from anonymous controller to the most powerful person in baseball's first professional franchise, guiding it through some of its darkest times. He took the team in a different direction, restored ties with fans and rebuilt a farm system that had been ignored.
Later, under new ownership, he presided over the construction of Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003.
The 58-year-old Allen announced his resignation Tuesday as the team's chief operating officer, effective the end of the year. After 18 years in baseball, he and his wife, Anna, are returning to their native Kansas to try something else.
"It's something we've talked about for a long time," Allen said. "I'm happy from the perspective it's time to move on and do something different. I'm going to miss the people, but it's the right time."
His baseball legacy will have a lot to do with timing.
Allen was an executive in Kansas City accounting firms before he decided to get into the game he loved. He was hired as an intern with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in 1990, learning baseball from the ground up.
"I started out wrapping hot dogs and selling programs and parking cars," Allen said. "All I wanted to do was work in major league baseball."
He got there in 1995, when Schott hired him as team controller. The Reds had the smallest front office in the majors with 34 employees, and an owner known to call her general manager "whatchamadoodle."
"Mrs. Schott always referred to me as her bookkeeper," Allen said.
When Major League Baseball suspended her for the second time in 1996 for inflammatory comments, she got to nominate her stand-in. Eventually she chose Allen, who got the job of "literally acting as an owner" for the next 60 days.
"Nobody knew who I was," Allen said. "So when Mrs. Schott was suspended, they were very hesitant to even let me have anything to do with it. She had a track record for having a puppet in there."
Right away, he started doing things his way. And he kept the job a lot longer than those two months.
Schott had done away with fan promotions, stopped honoring the team's history and whittled away the farm system. Allen immediately reversed course, adding an array of promotions to attract the fans back. He also began honoring the franchise's great players and teams. He started rebuilding the farm system.
Schott fumed. Baseball was pleased. Allen kept the job until she sold controlling interest to Carl Lindner in 1999, when he became chief operating officer.
When Bob Castellini bought control of the team before the 2006 season, Allen became executive vice president and chief operating officer. Tired of the grind, he decided at the end of this season to return home and try something different.
Castellini persuaded him to stay on through the end of the year to help the club find a new spring training base. Voters in Sarasota, Fla., rejected a tax increase last week to upgrade the facility there.
The Reds' lease in Sarasota runs for another year, with three additional one-year lease options that will give them time to figure out where they're headed.
"I'm getting a lot of phone calls and e-mails from both states, probably more from Arizona than Florida," Allen said. "We're weeding out the pretenders and the contenders, if you will."
Allen also got a call from baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday. They reminisced about those trying times in the '90s.
"We rehashed some of the great stories," Allen said. "They were difficult times, but now you can look back and say, wow, what an interesting period in both of our lives."