This is not an essay about team fandom. I certainly have thoughts on the matter, and though they apply here somewhat, they aren’t the crux the discussion. Pledging allegiance to a team is an act separate from what I’m discussing, though I may dig into that later in time.
This is not an essay about death. Stan Musial lived to be 92, and while the passing of anyone of note can be seen a tragic or sad, I find little mourning in my heart for a famous person who lived so long. I am more interested in celebrating his life, but again, that is not what this is about.
This is about the fans’ relationship with Musial. Musial was a star of a different era, when fans not only had their team, they had their guy. This is strictly conjecture, but it seemed that baseball fans in Musial’s era had a higher level of appreciation or admiration for one particular player. Everybody had a guy. Whether it was Gehrig/DiMaggio/Mattingly, Koufax, Williams, or Pete Rose, people seemed more inclined to hitch their proverbial wagons to a star. Robin Yount, though he played in a much later era, was that for my dad when I was growing up. But I never had a guy, and don’t to this day.
I think a lot of it has to do with access. ESPN and FOX and MLB.tv allow us all to watch (pretty much) any game we want. I don’t have to lock on to a Twin simply because they are the only team I can see. I respect Joe Mauer as a player, but he’s not my guy. My guy has Chapman’s veolcity and Stanton’s raw power, and Billy Hamilton’s speed, and Brendan Ryan’s glove, and Trout’s range, and Ben Revere’s contact rate. I can construct this player with clips that I have access to at any given time. This player, or some amalgamation thereof, is my guy. While I may take this to an extreme somewhat, I don’t think I’m that far off from most fans, or at least readers of this site. People still have favorite teams, for sure, and they celebrate players on that team, but the level of admiration for one man seems to have dwindled.
Free agency is also to blame, I suppose. The Greats tended to stay with their teams forever, for the most part, so it was easier to pick your guy. If you had a team you could watch or listen to, and you were fairly certain their best player was sticking around, you could devote yourself to him. The heartache of watching your favorite player leave town was far less of a possibility.
Perhaps the threat of finding out one’s player took some form of PEDs has lessened the desire for dedication. This would involve another kind of heartbreak, but one still palatable for many fans. No one wants to back a cheater.
But one thing seems for sure. Stan Musial was among the last of a dying breed, the breed of “our guys.” Someday, Willie Mays will pass. And so will Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt and Frank Robinson. This breed is being whittled down every year, it seems. And that, more than the actual death of a great player, saddens me. We don’t just lose a great player, we lose a partial connection to that time in baseball, a time (though certainly clouded by the sepia tones of nostalgia) that I think I would have liked, if only for that very specific reason.
I cannot find it in myself to find my guy. My strange Voltron of a favorite player suits me, but there seems to be little romance in that. In a time when snark and opinion and name-calling are at an all-time high, I’m looking for a little romance. I can still drum it up here and there, but it seemed more real in Stan Musial’s day. I wouldn’t trade anything about the times in which I live, but I might consider trading for that feeling. Even thinking about that feeling makes me feel good.