Mike Cosgrove

June 10, 2008

Here we see a young man oozing easy confidence, immune to the effects of what seems to be a banishment to a far field where the grass is patchy and brown and there are only the faintest hints (a pale blip that might be a base, an even fainter distant structure that might be a chain-link backstop) that this fallow ground could be baseball-related. Most others in his situation freeze into corpselike stiffness but he overcomes the usual limitations of the awkward wax figure baseball card pose by letting his body communicate looseness and ease, the natural balanced grace of a lefty. He stares directly at the viewer, a trace of a small, confident smile on his unblemished face. The back of the card contains the story of his quick rise through the minors, including the year he fanned 231 batters in 172 minor league innings. After that year he began splitting time between the minors and the majors, finally spending the majority of the year in the big leagues during the final season listed, 1974. Below the line for that year is a statement that reads, “Mike became lefty ace of Astros’ bullpen in 1974 & may be starter in 1975.”

                                                       *  *  *

And here we see the same man just one year later, no longer able to look directly at the viewer, no longer young. The brim of his cap is misshapen, as if mangled by bullies or forgotten in the rain. He wears badges of desperation, a perm, a dust-thin mustache. Behind him is the unmistakable high stands of a major league stadium, simultaneously claustrophobic and vast. He has made it; there is no joy. On the back of his card there is no trace of his minor league successes, just the thin gruel of numbers of a big league mop-up man. Instead of an encouraging personalized line of text below the numbers, there is this non-sequitur: “At the turn of the century the Chicago Cubs were known as the Colts.” It’s tempting to think the scattered figures in the distance are heckling the man in the extreme foreground, that scorn from strangers is the cause of the complicated expression on Mike Cosgrove’s face. But they are just as likely to be talking about how the Cubs used to be known as the Colts as they are to be talking about, let alone expending the effort to mock, Mike Cosgrove. They really have nothing to do with the likes of Mike Cosgrove. Whatever vague repulsion or sour apprehension rippling his pasty features is his alone, the light from the dirty neon of the pawnshop within.


  1. 1.  Goddamit!

    This has been a rough two weeks of ups and downs and I’m both enthralled and repelled by this writing. Enthralled because I can’t believe someone can be this damn good on a consistent basis. Repelled because… well, I wish I could do it.

    Ah, what the hell. I’m off to try and teach a few to do it like you, Josh. I’m rambling here (a consistent state of mind for yours truly these past two weeks) but I love this piece. Thanks for bringing it in to my life.

    I might be embarassed after reading this post later on. I’ll live.

  2. 2.  That second card made me wonder if Will Ferrell was doing a ’70s baseball movie as a followup to his documentary on the old ABA.

    BTW, nice interview.

  3. 3.  Yeah, you hit this one out of the dome.

    I like those Astros hats btw.

  4. 4.  2 : “BTW, nice interview.”

    Thanks, Ennui. (Brian Joura has an interview with me posted at the two links below…)



  5. 5.  3 Your comment about the caps got me thinking of another possible explanation for Cosgrove’s sour expression: humiliation. The stripes on the collar hint at it; below them is, for my money, the ugliest, most garish monstrosity of a uniform ever foisted on major-league ballplayers.

    The Padres’s brown, the Pirates’ yellow, the A’s green-on-gold were all horrid, but none had the vomitous effect of those Astros’ stripes. Also, only the Astros had to display such ugliness every day, at home and on the road. (The White Sox’ shorts were the greatest humiliation, but for only one game.)


  6. 6.  Those Astro caps remind me of an oil company logo. Didn’t Texaco have a similar logo at one point?

  7. 7.  6 You can trust your car to the man who wears the star…


  8. 8.  That is one heckuva perm. It’s a little hard to believe, actually, that these photos were taken only one year apart.

  9. 9.  7 ,6 … Of course, the star is a common emblem for Texas sporting teams.


    Kind of similar to how the maple leaf is common to many Canadian teams.

    It is interesting, however, how both the Houston Oilers and the Houston Rockets have eschewed the star tradition.

  10. 10.  On that second card, it looks as if Cosgrove has just caught a whiff of human waste.

  11. 11.  10 Or he looks like he got a bitter foretaste of his downward career spiral. He never pitched in the bigs after 1976 then suffered the humiliation of this: “Before 1978 Season: Sent from the Cleveland Indians to the Toronto Blue Jays in an unknown transaction.” The ignominious “unknown transaction”. (per baseball-reference.com)

  12. 12.  4 Yes, nice interview. Also some really nicely turned phrases/sentences above, esp. on card 2, e.g., “the unmistakable high stands of a major league stadium, simultaneously claustrophobic and vast”, “the thin gruel of numbers of a big league mop-up man”. Thanks for your ongoing efforts here; they are much appreciated.

  13. 13.  Google’s Mike Cosgrove collection is dominated by the drummer for Alien Ant Farm.

  14. 14.  Retrosheet turns up a classic box score for June 18, 1974:
    The easy-throwin’ lefty came on in relief of an injured Dave Roberts with one out in the first and threw 8 2/3 innings of shutout relief to beat the Phillies 1-0.

    And on May 28 of that year, he came on with none out in the first (spelling the unfortunate Tom Griffin) and threw 7 innings of one-run ball to once again get the win.

    No wonder he looked so cool and confident in ’75.

  15. 15.  1st picture, “Yeah, I’m bad”

    2nd picture, “I’m really bad”

  16. 16.  Loved the entry.

    The only thing is that from Topps cards in this and earlier eras is that you can never be sure when the picture was taken. Topps was famous for reusing photos from earlier years. The 1976 Cosgrove had to be taken no earlier than 1975 because that was the first year with that uniform. But the 1975 Cosgrove picture could have been taken in from 1971-1974, since that’s when the Astros wore that uniform.


    But check out his 1977 card


    Looks like he was just having a bad hair/face day when they took the picture for his 76 card.

  17. Ha! I agree with #5 above, the very first thing that crossed my mind was that Cosgrove was photogrphed at the exact moment management trotted out the new ’75 Astros’ unis…
    Perhaps Jose Cruz was standing directly behind the photographer, modeling his brand-new skin-tight, day-glo, rainbow-striped contmporary ensemble for the bemused, somewhat apprehensive reliever?

  18. I was going back through the archives and found this post… still think it’s one of your best. For some reason, certain cards made me feel sad when I looked at them; the ’76 Cosgrove was one of them. The most depressing, however, was this one: http://www.checkoutmycards.com/Cards/Baseball/1975/Topps_Mini/542/Pete_Broberg . I guess the idea that a man of 24 with gray hair like that made me worry about my future. Not for nothing, but those mid-’70’s Astro uni’s seem to divide people into 2 very distinct camps: love ’em or hate ’em. I look at them now through different eyes, but back in the day I thought they were AWESOME. Cesar Cedeno looked like the fastest man alive when he would track a fly ball in that uniform.

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