Faded glory is no fun. Just ask Joe Morgan, as he sits in the silent Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse looking at lockers where the names Sparky Anderson, Pete Rose and Tony Perez used to hang.
"I cried when Sparky was fired. I'll miss Pete. Hell, I still miss Big Doggy. (Perez) and he was traded two years ago," said the tiny second baseman.
"I miss 'em all. I just have to live with the guys who are left and we'll try to go from there..."
Somewhere, Little Joe has a Big Red Machine T-shirt. It's locked away. "I won't wear it any more," he said. "We don't deserve the name now. So it's put away. I want to wear it again, but we have to earn it."
It is to be hoped that Morgan did his packing with mothballs.
Can it be just two spring trainings since the Reds were a team for the ages, a lineup as fabulous as Murderers Row?
The Redsland complex was exciting then, dappled with baseball history. Cincinnati glowed with the arrogance the Rughian Yankees had. The Reds were a team of broad shoulders, biting barbs, high spirits.
Now, the Reds are sad.Their banter is gone, their confidence nearly shot. Doubt is everywhere in Redsland.
Call the roll of the misssing: Perez -- traded because, after driving in 1,000 runs in 10 years, he insisted on a raise.
Rose -- lost because management would not pay a $1 million, rest-of-career contract nine months ago.
Anderson -- fired because his bosses knew he would speak his mind, not echo their line, in troubled times.
Those are only partial truths. The aging Perez insisted on assurances about playing time. Rose infuriated the Reds for a decade with his (effective) contract haggling. Anderson, some say, grew detached and stoic, as he watched his thing of beauty, his team of "coconuts," limp into their sunset.
Once the erosion of a remarkable team begins, it is usually irreversible. The Reds bear the sings of decay.
Johnny Bench wore a corset and struggled to catch 100 games last year. Morgan batted. 236 and didn't steal a base for two months.
"Baseball is all attitude," said Morgan. Unfortunately for the current Reds, he is probably correct.
The Cincinnati future is written in the cliches of its new manager, kindly John McNamara. "It doesn't take talent to hustle... We'll try to build a winning atmosphere... We have to develop a pitching staff behind Tom Seaver."
These are the mottos of an expansion franchise, not the Big Red Machine.
McNamara deserves better than to be the scapegoat in the Reds' decline. But that is the frame he is being hanged in.
"I'm elated to be here... This is one of the very best jobs in baseball and it gives me a humble feeling to have it.... I honestly feel sorry for you guys (reporters). I just don't have much to say that's colorful.... When I was hired the Reds said, 'Second place isn't good enough,' but nobody has said to me that we have to finish first or else...."
As Sam Spade would say, "Don't be stupid, sweetheart. You're taking the fall."
The signs of McNamara's 11-year big-league travels are all around him -- an Angel tote bag, a Giant trunk, a Padre jacket. The marks of 16 minor-league seasons in Fresno, Albuquerque and Amarillo only appear in his weathered, hawk-nosed face.
"If you don't mind," he says, turning on Mantovani on the FM radio, "I always play soft music in my office." When your career major-league managing record is 321-388 it can only help.
On the first day of camp, NcNamara slammed the lid of his old Giant trunk on his right hand. It is still bandaged. Every time he must shake hands, which is constantly, he grits his teeth.
Light a candle for John McNamara.
Then use it to set fire to Dick Wagner's house. That, at least, is what many a Cincinnatl fan would say.
Seldom has a baseball drama had such an implacable heavy as Wagner, the generl manager in charge of purse strings who worked his way up to Cincinnati president, showing windfall profits all the way.
Wagner effigies are a cottage industry in Ohio. And Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky...
One key to Wagner's success is his mastery of a single word: "No."
Can I have a raise? his players ask. Can I have a no-cut contract? Will you renegotiate? Will you speak to my agent?
Amid these rough seas, the Reds still claim they see land. "Losing Pete won't hurt us that much," said Ken Griffey. "We won't lose speed or power and we'll probably gain on defense. Pete was great at getting on base, but we've got plenty of people left who can do that. We'll score just as many runs without him.
"As for losing leadership, well, we lost more of a leader than Pete when Perez left."
If Morgan has his way, he will be leader enough for a whole team by himself. "I was on all the wrong lists last year... mainly the disabled list," he said. "This year I'm going to get back on the right kind where I belong... stolen bases, batting average...
"People talk like I'm old. I know I'm not. When I see Dave Parker and Jim Rice signing for millions and people talk about who is the best player in baseball, I feel like whispering, 'Hey, you forgot to mention somebody... me.'"
No man has more incentive than the 35-year-old Morgan. His contract runs out this year. A return to form and he can go from well-to-do to millionaire with one autograph.
Morgan, Anderson, Rose and Perez were always the close-knit center of the machine. Now, Bench and the younger Red stars who were slightly outside the inner clubhouse circle then feel free to take a few "we'll survive without them" parting shots.
"Having a new manager may be a boost to some of our young pitchers," Griffey said. "They won't always be worried about Sparky hooking them as soon as somebody gets on base."
It is doubtiful that any manager could cure the Cincinnati staff. The Reds have a magic touch with pitchers -- they can ruin anybody. Even Tom Seaver slipped to 16-14 last year.
Rose's notoriety will be missed even less than Anderson's famed quick hook.
"During (Rose's) 44-game hitting streak," said Foster, "I remember Dave Concepcion going five for five and nobody talked to him .. That is something that can turn you off."
Not to mention all those unnoticed George Foster home runs.
A Bench quip to Rose in the Cincinnati airport is now part of the squabbling Reds' lore.
"Where to?" Bench asked ex-mate Rose in passing.
"Fort Lauderdale for a TV commercial," said Rose, who had just been hit with a paternity suit by a Tampa woman.
"What for?" responded Bench. "Pampers?"
The Reds were always known for carrying needles almost as big and blunt as their bats. It went well with their swagger.
The days for bragging, however, are past. The time has come for soft, soothing music and a respectable silence.