THE FLEA MARKET
A VIVA EL BIRDOS PLAY IN ONE ACT
JOHN MOZELIAK, a nervous shopper at the St. Louis Ballplayers Goodwill
WALT JOCKETTY, his worldly liaison
TONY LA RUSSA, a disembodied voice
THE GHOST OF CHRISTY MATHEWSON, a cautionary figure
The Recession has made strange shopping partners of baseball's vast middle class. WALT JOCKETTY, experienced bargain shopper, steward of a Cincinnati team in the middle of a long and cheap rebuilding process, has seen JOHN MOZELIAK window-shopping wistfully at ballplayer Target long enough to agree to take him under his wing.
So off to ballplayer Goodwill they go. It's not in the newest strip mall, and there are certain types of player—the empty-.275 first baseman, the no-hit, no-field catcher, the righty relief pitcher who specializes in off-speed junk—who will hang on the dusty racks until someone is putting together a particularly weird Halloween costume. But WALT is a veteran of the strange aisles, and he is ready to convince JOHN that there's life after SCOTT BORAS.
WALT: Now this guy, for instance—his agent's name is Scott Boriss. I know the guy, and if you get him on the horn right after his double shift at the mattress warehouse he'll agree to the league minimum just to get you off the phone. I usually start negotiating right when the payphone asks for more quarters.
JOHN: I—I feel awkward being here, Walt.
WALT [looking through a bin of left-handers]: Nonsense. Happens to the best of us. This one has—well, it's most of a slider.
JOHN: I know it does. But this is my big year! Payroll's down, we just made a huge deadline deal, and we've got a big, Matt Holliday-shaped hole to fill in left field. Pretty soon my only duty as General Manager will be christening the ballpark Pujols Stadiang, but this—this is the Offseason of Mozeliak.
WALT: Right, right. So what do you think is better, a LOOGY with no fastball, or a LOOGY with no right arm? I might just take the whole bin. I really—
A MIDI version of WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE rings out of JOHN's pocket. Bargain shoppers glare from behind warped-looking shelving until he flips the phone open and ducks hastily into the UTILITY INFIELDER WHO CAN'T PLAY SHORT aisle. On the phone JOHN can hear a cassette version of WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, and on top of it, sounding impatient, TONY LA RUSSA.
TONY: Moz Def. Glad I caught you. How's Goodwill? Hey, is Jocko there?
JOHN looks down his glasses at WALT. WALT briefly but firmly shakes his head.
JOHN: You know, ah, he just left. Anyway—what can I help you with?
TONY: I don't know, just calling to chat. You know. I was wondering if you had a left fielder yet.
JOHN [staring at the far wall, where a few unmatched left fielders stand unpromisingly.]: I'll tell you, I'm still looking. But I've got some leads, and I'll—well, I'm sure I'll see you at work. So I can just tell you then.
TONY: About that, Mozambique. I was wondering if you could get one now?
JOHN: Now? Isn't it a little soon?
TONY: Well I don't mean now, of course!
TONY: But if you could get it done in an hour, that'd be great. Anyway, I've got to have two hands to air-play this solo, and Mac's busy air-drumming. Tell Walt Jocketty World I said hey, okay? If you see him again.
JOHN steps out of the aisle to find WALT haggling over a LOOGY.
WALT: Look, I'd give you $400,000, but it says here he's had Dan Johnson Surgery, and to be honest I'm not even sure what that is. I'll fax you an offer sheet. Just be near the front desk when it comes in this time, all right? If they ask what room you're staying in just make something up. [He hangs up.] John, I think I'm going to head out. You see anything you like?
JOHN: I just got off the phone with Tony. I think I'll just grab Xavier Nady on the way out.
WALT: Oh—well, okay. I'll be at the register.
Defeated, JOHN walks to the back of the store, where XAVIER NADY sits in a prime spot on the quiet left fielders' wall. He's been nearly average before, and he can be nearly average again! He is the perfect patch for a team that has not been able to develop its own XAVIER NADYS. But as JOHN takes one last glance at the price tag an eerie but remarkably distinguished chill falls over the aisle. JOHN turns around to find erstwhile Cardinal employee THE GHOST OF CHRISTY MATHEWSON floating carefully over the DISCOUNT SPIRITS aisle and into view. MATHEWSON adjusts his pince-nez and moves one rakish, waxy lock back into place over his forehead.
MATHEWSON: Good afternoon, John—it is I, The Ghost of Christy Mathewson!
JOHN: I know, thanks. What are you doing here? I made the same mistake you did, but that Joel Pineiro in the right-handers aisle, his name sounds exactly like it's spelled. Your guy's at Target this year.
MATHEWSON: I thank you, John, but I'm not here to resume my corporeal meanderings—I'm here to-day with a warning. I owe you as much, after you sorted things out with the players' union. I've been speaking with my—ha, ha—my partners in the, ah ha, para-normal, and I can assure you that none of the ghosts I'm in regular contact with have any desire to possess the Castilian gentle-man on which you've set your left field sights.
JOHN: He's—no offense, Mr. Mathewson, but he's alright on his own, isn't he?
MATHEWSON: All right, perhaps. Adequate, why, almost certainly. But brilliant? Stupendous? When Pete Alexander and I went "Over there" to "deal" with the "Kaiser" did we settle for adequate? Leave adequate to the Old World, friend Mozeliak. If one must arrange for one's left-fielding in this dingy place, it stands to reason that he should aim not for the assuredly unimpressive but for a player who might, should things proceed in his favor, contribute what we called a significant number of Victories As Against the Homunculus.
JOHN: So an Austin Kearns or a Randy Winn, instead of a Xavier Nady?
MATHEWSON: I am merely saying that if one is forced, through circumstance, to look here when they were so recently looking at Matthew Holliday, it might be best to become completely penurious. A Winn on the low end, a Michael Cameron on the high end. And that money might be spent elsewhere, on a replacement for our mutual acquaintance Pineiro or a fleet of Relieving Pitchers to account for these starters' weakened arm-constitutions. The middle path, as my father used to say, only leads to the holes in the fork!
JOHN: Well, Mr. Mathewson—I suppose 'll take that into consideration. Thank you.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE begins to play on JOHN's phone.
MATHEWSON: I—I say. I hate to tergiversate but it is in our spectral nature, after all, to make a sudden de-parture! Godspeed, Mr. Mozeliak.
MATHEWSON vanishes; WALT appears, keys in hand.
WALT: Alright, I started the car, so maybe put him on layaway if you're not sure about it. And I'm still not here.