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.