Any list of paramount blockheads must include Charlie Brown, the hero of Sandlot Peanuts (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $9.95), a retrospective collection of Charles Schulz cartoons that document Charlie's career as pitcher and manager of "the losingest team in the history of baseball." Charlie's own ineptness is aggravated by a squad that features a beagle at shortstop, a second baseman with a blanket and a leftfielder who's still on the bottle. Charlie remains only semi-daunted, even though "My team hates me. I'm a lousy pitcher, my stomach hurts.... I don't know why I play this game.... If there's an earthquake and the other team is swallowed up, we might win by default."
These inner struggles take place in a closed world in which we never see grown-ups or many of the opponents who roll up astronomical scores. Yet the outside world can intrude, as in the sequence in which Snoopy challenges Henry Aaron in an attempt to be the first to break Babe Ruth's home-run record. Lucy howls. "It'll be a disgrace. You're not even human." Ignoring her and his hate mail, the canine slugger ruminates, "I just want to be a credit to my breed."
But the focus is usually on Charlie Brown's doomed efforts to raise his team to respectability in the face of mushrooming impediments and embarrassments that confront him at the pitcher's mound. His shortstop wants his dog dish filled. Lucy, who plays outfield like an irritable dowager, offers criticism or, worse, advice, such as her suggestion to try a field goal. Even his big league hero, Joe Shlabotnik, loses his managerial job for putting the squeeze on with the bases empty. Charlie Brown doesn't even get sent to the showers ("I have to take a bath"). Worst of all, when he's out of action his team starts winning.
Along with the humor, Schulz offers rueful comments on the human condition. When Lucy says, "Look at it this way, Charlie Brown...we learn more from losing than we do from winning," he replies. "That makes me the smartest person in the world."
Schulz has been tracing the sporting lives of his Peanuts since the '50s, so the material is familiar, but it remains unfailingly appealing. Indeed, it's safe to call Sandlot Peanuts a minor classic of American sports humor—if you can call it humor. When Charlie Brown, intending to motivate his troops, declares, "The way a person performs upon the field may be the same way he performs in the game of life," he terrifies them. Good grief!