So he followed the Triple A St. Paul Saints with religious zeal. One opening day, his high school principal announced that anyone who wanted to could skip afternoon classes. Schulz rode his bike to Lexington Park. Taking his seat behind home plate, he noticed a classmate two aisles away. She pored over a looseleaf binder in which a complete box score had been carefully ruled out in pencil. "Obviously the girl couldn't afford a real scorecard," Schulz says wistfully. "She was so earnest and dedicated that it saddened me. I should have talked to her but I didn't have the nerve."
Several years later, after he had been to war and taught a correspondence art course, he published his first panel. It ran in a magazine called Timeless Topix, and the caption said, "Judy, if your batting average was just a little higher I think I could really fall in love with you."
Today Schulz strips are syndicated in more than 2,000 newspapers around the world and his characters appear on everything from lunch pails to electronic games. He lives simply, his one indulgence the indoor ice rink across the street from his studio in Santa Rosa, Calif. He built the arena 16 years ago and ran it, at a loss, as a sort of philanthropic hobby. He organized a bunch of youth hockey leagues, with the provision that every kid who came out got to play, and for a long time he refereed games himself. "I took great satisfaction in protecting everybody and making sure all the calls were right," he says, sounding like the catcher in the rye. "And yet all I ever got was criticism." He was abused by the players, who slashed him, fans who spat at him and parents who yelled, "Hey, Schulz, we can't win because it's your arena." So he retired from reffing.
In November it seemed he would retire from the skating business, too. He had to close the arena because he couldn't get liability insurance. Last year's coverage cost him about $15,000. This year the insurance company would not offer a general long-term liability policy, and the arena was briefly empty. "Isn't it a pity we couldn't have a pickup game of hockey because of something dumb like insurance?" says Schulz, whose characters shill for Metropolitan Life in current TV commercials. "It's really a crime." Schulz had to settle for a one-year million-dollar policy at $150,000, and the arena is now back in operation.
Schulz complains frequently about the hypocrisy of the grown-up world, but adults have never appeared in Peanuts. The reason, Schulz says, is that they would intrude. "We live in a society of angry people," he says. "That's why they go to games, take their shirts off, drink 30 beers and yell, 'We're Number One.' "
Schulz worries that while his characters are developing, he's winding down. A few years ago while playing slo-pitch he misjudged a routine fly ball and watched it sail over his head. "I always prided myself on being a good fielder," he says. "It was so humiliating to have reached the age where I'd lost the knack of knowing where the ball was. It was my first realization that I was suddenly an old man."
"I used to be able to dodge those line drives," Charlie Brown tells Lucy after getting beaned by a batted ball.
"When you get old," she says, "your reflexes slow down."
But Schulz is still competitive about his strip. He pays close attention to the various polls that are supposed to determine which comic strip is the most popular. "Once you get caught up in them, you're running in a race," he says. "It's nice to be on top, but when I don't come in first I can rationalize it.
"I suppose it's like being an old athlete. It's a thrill to put on the Yankee uniform when you're a rookie, but when you've been putting it on for 15 years it gets to be old hat. Your ambitions change. You get old so fast, and as the world begins to open up, you ask yourself, 'Has it been worth it to be at the drawing board day after day doing cartoons?' Cartooning is not glamorous or important, but I've made it look like it is. I wonder if my ambition was a little misguided. But what else could I have done?