My office walls are covered with artwork and photographs which represent a number of my interests. There are music boxes and organ grinders, early twentieth-century sheet music, the wrapper from a giant chocolate bar, some beautiful Origami flowers made by the mother of a Japanese friend, and a photo of my son Casey and me at a ball game, wearing matching T-shirts with a big, blue PUTZ emblazoned across the front. (Mr. J.J. Putz once pitched for our Seattle Mariners). I've been a baseball fan since I was nine, so it stands to reason that some of my office wall decorations have been posters handed out by the Mariners over the past fifteen years.
But baseball ain't what it used to be. (I know, nothing is, but still). What I miss most about the baseball of sixty years ago is the loyalty and affection that grew between fans and the players who spent their entire career with one club. Joe DiMaggio wasn't called the Yankee Clipper for nothing. Jackie Robinson retired rather than accept a trade to his Dodgers' hated crosstown rival, the New York Giants. And if the Giants had ever traded Willie Mays, the fans would've demolished the Polo Grounds.
Most Seattle fans will never stop booing Alex Rodriguez for swearing fealty to the Mariners, then jumping ship to grab an unprecedented package of Texas simoleons. But Albert Pujols' defection to Los Angeles this past winter was worse. When he sailed southward, A-Rod was still a green kid, susceptible to the blandishments of a megalomaniacal team owner. But all it took for Pujols, a grown man in the prime of his career and an idol in St. Louis, to blow off his adoring multitudes of fans was a few pieces of Disneyland silver. His statue could've stood next to Stan Musial's forever. How many millions of dollars does anyone need?
I have no particular attachment to the St. Louis Cardinals, but Pujols' flight to the coast was a spit in the face of every baseball fan everywhere. Last week, I cast a jaundiced eye at my walls, then pulled down the baseball posters, and put up the ragtime memorabilia I accumulated over the past several years, as I wrote my ragtime-based historical mysteries. Scott Joplin replaced Alex Rodriguez, a better trade than any the Mariners ever pulled off. Joe Lamb's "Nightingale Rag" replaced the Mariners' flamboyant proclamation, "You Gotta Love These Guys."
Well, no, I don't gotta. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?