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.”
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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.