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Harry Rasmussen

March 23, 2010

I’m drawn to insignificant moments in my past, when I was neither here nor there. Empty afternoons in childhood, leafing through my cards. Shooting baskets as a teenager on the hoop at my grandfather’s house. Sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, the sun shining down, nothing to do, nowhere to go. I don’t really have moments like that anymore, except when I dig around through my cards.

I was digging around in my cards yesterday, empty of ideas, when I came upon this Harry Rasmussen card. There was something about it, some trace that I couldn’t identify or place, something more than just the faintly melancholy aura of the player and his droopy eyes and droopy mustache and apprehensive skyward gaze. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I don’t want to be erased. But there are times when I come upon evidence that this is bound to happen. Some flicker of that eventuality emanates from Harry Rasmussen.

I searched for more traces of Harry Rasmussen and discovered that if you search for Harry Rasmussen, you won’t find him. He’s the only cardboard god you can say that about, the only one able to exist and then disappear without leaving a trace, except for this one card from 1976.

This card relates that Harry Rasmussen was born in Racine, Wisconsin. As of 1976 he still resided in Racine. On one of the empty afternoons in my childhood, when I sat around on the floor of my room and leafed through my cards, I must have noticed that a player in cards I owned from 1978 and 1980 looked a lot like Harry Rasmussen but wasn’t named Harry Rasmussen. The later figure, Eric Rasmussen, was born in Racine but had moved on to reside in St. Louis.

I’ve never lived in St. Louis, but there were a few months in my life when I lived in Racine. I stayed with my future wife at her parents’ house. We had decided to set out for a new life together, but we didn’t have jobs or a place of our own to live. We took turns looking for work on the computer. Every afternoon I went over to the public library and then to a driving range and bought a bucket of balls. I’d never done much golfing before. I drove the golf balls one by one out into a stubbly field. Eventually I stared down at the empty bucket and wondered who I was.

Eventually I found some temp work in Chicago, and we moved to an apartment in that city. After some months as a temp I was hired on a more official basis and a placard with my name on it appeared outside my cubicle. There are these placards outside everyone’s cube. Occasionally the placards are removed and the cubicles are emptied. Sometimes a placard with a different name appears. You walk by the cubicle and feel a flicker of an eventuality.

You may already know all this. After the 1976 season, Harry Rasmussen decided he no longer wanted to be Harry Rasmussen. Harry Rasmussen will not come up in a search on baseball-reference.com. The person he became, the one on the 1978 and 1980 cards in my shoebox, Eric Rasmussen, is there, and he inherited the losing records Harry compiled in 1975 and 1976. Eric Rasmussen lasted several more years in the majors, including stints both before and after a two-year detour to the Mexican Leagues, then he went into coaching. Harry Rasmussen? Harry Rasmussen looked up into the sky above the stands in a bright red cap and disappeared.

15 comments

  1. This photo makes me picture Bill Macy as Walter Findlay, thinking, “Oh dear, what did Maude just say this time?”


  2. I remember being intrigued by this card as a kid. It is a very unique expression for a baseball card. I also recall the name change. It was a few years later when Jose Gonzalez became Jose Uribe. There was a kid in my high school who changed his name from Jeff Fulton to Jeff Golemme. There was no explanation offered. He was later kicked out of the school.


  3. I didn’t know Eric Rasmussen changed his name from Harry.

    The only player I could think who had something like this was Albert Belle when he was called or listed as “Joey” early in his career.

    Then I remember 2 players, Dwight Gooden and Tim Raines, were called/listed by their nicknames, Doc & Rock on their baseball cards by the late 90’s.


  4. If I recall, Rasmussen changed his first name simply because he really disliked the name Harry.


  5. Good call on Albert Belle. I think his situation differed a little from Rasmussen’s, since when Albert made his change he was reverting to his given name (I think), while Rasmussen actually changed his given name.

    I remember kids in my school who changed their names, but (as with thunderfan24’s example) it was always the last name, not the first, probably a side-effect of rising divorce rates, etc.


  6. Gosh, I never knew or realized that about Rasmussen! I’m flabbergasted!


  7. A beautifully told, haunting tale about Harry Rasmussen. Even more so because you posted it the day after the one and only Eric Rasmussen got his ass flattened 12-1 by the Astros in my ’77 replay. There’s no justice I tell ya.


  8. Are people still naming their kids Harry these days?


  9. I don’t know if they’re naming them Harry now, but here’s a more recent hurlin’ Harry who apparently also prefers not to be known by his given name:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hallaro01.shtml


  10. Man! Harry Halladay would have been a GREAT baseball name. Sounds like someone who would have pitched for the Cardinals in the 1940s, doesn’t it?

    This post somehow immediately made me think of Elvis Costello’s song “I Want To Vanish.”

    http://popup.lala.com/popup/360569496712388232


  11. I believe Letterman named his kid Harry a few years ago.

    We had a kid who around 4th grade changed his last name from Gay to Gaines. He cited a re-marriage, but you can bet none of us bought that one, and still don’t to this day.

    Oh, and I wonder if Rasmussen is looking at a plane going over Shea, on the weekend of September 6-7, 1975, or maybe up at the heavens wondering why he gave up those two homers to Vail and Kingman on Friday night…


  12. My girlfriend’s 8-year-old son is a Harry. She’s English, I think maybe it’s more common over there (e.g. Lady Di’s son, the perhaps future King).

    IIRC when Uribe changed his name Whitey Herzog said he was the player to be named later.


  13. Growing up, my sister and I had cousins in Racine our same age that we would visit for a month every summer — need I say it was a magical place? Sure, the gigantic dirt mound that served as our “King of the Hill” venue, or the field of wheat over our heads in the vacant lot next door, or the big house (with intercom system!) to serve three generations of my family living under the same roof could have been anywhere, but they were in Racine.

    Of more general interest is that Racine was the home of John Matuszak, and remains Ground Zero for the best pastry known to man (aka “kringle”).


  14. It’s also home to recently profiled cardboard god Duane Kuiper. And Salmon-a-Rama.


  15. My father had the best observation on the Harry Rasmussen name change, I think.

    “If you were named Harry Rasmussen and wanted to legally change your name, wouldn’t you change ‘Rasmussen’ instead of ‘Harry?'”



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