"When I see a head from a great distance, it ceases to be a sphere and becomes an extreme confusion falling down into the abyss."
– Alberto Giacometti
The most surprising discovery I have made while sifting meticulously through my baseball card collection over the last few months is that I do not have a single Rowland Office card. I don’t have a Rowland Office card from when Rowland Office was on the Braves, nor do I have a Rowland Office card from when Rowland Office was on the Expos.
I would have bet a lot of money otherwise, since I have a distinct memory of gleefully charting the narrowing of Rowland Office’s already narrow face on each new year’s card. In fact, if I had to boil my baseball card collecting down to a single personage, I would probably pick Rowland Office who, because of his odd name and face and, most especially, because of the year-to-year serial drama that was his face-narrowing, was a source of constant fascination for my brother and me.
After all, the login password I chose when I first started this blog (since changed) was "Rowland." I envisioned that somewhere along the line, as a centerpiece to the whole ridiculous endeavor of writing essays about decades-old rectangles of cardboard, I’d write a multi-installment Rowland Office epic, using a succession of his cards to show his strange narrowing and the narrowing but never completely disappearing and always increasingly strange sliver of my childhood, my childhood as it was when I lived through it, my childhood as it existed in the first years after its demise, my childhood as an abrasive fleck in the eye of my early adult years, my childhood as a box of old baseball cards haunting my first reluctant achy-kneed steps into middle age, narrower and narrower all the time, always changing but never gone, Rowland Office the slim indestructible muse of those slim indestructible years.
So imagine my shock when I sorted every last card I own and found myself Rowland Officeless. I cannot explain it. Did I just imagine all the Rowland Offices of my youth? Did all of the Rowland Office cards always only belong to my brother? Did some of my cards get mixed in with my brother’s cards in storage before my brother removed his cards to parley them into a used pair of Rossignols? Did someone break into our storage unit and remove all the Rowland Office cards from my collection, replacing them with seven 1975 cards of a Tiger player named Dick Sharon, like Indiana Jones switching out the golden idol in the booby-trapped cave with a bag of sand?
Beats me. But here is the only card I own that features, at least in a minor way, Rowland Office. It’s also one of the very few Braves cards I own. Perhaps the Rowland Office thief worked backwards through my collection, removing Rowland Offices carefully from my pack of Montreal Expos (where Rowland Office played in the latter years of my collecting), but then when the thief heard a car coming up the dirt road toward the storage barn he just grabbed as many Braves as possible to try to get the rest of the Rowland Offices before fleeing. So not only do I not have any Rowland Offices, I don’t even have any Biff Pocorobas, which renders my long-held vision of expounding at great length about an imagined pitcher-batter matchup between Bob Apodaca and Biff Pocoroba null and void.
But what can you do? A couple days ago I saw a message in plastic letters on the message board outside a church that read "Count your blessings, not your problems." The blessing here is that I do have a card with Rowland Office on it. (At the risk of counting a problem, not a blessing, the back of the card has a filled-in box next to Rowland Office’s name, providing evidence that I was indeed at one time in possession of Rowland Office’s 1975 card at least, god damn it.) I am pretty sure that Rowland Office is in the center of this picture, in the middle row with five guys to his right and five guys to his left. This was my first guess upon looking at the photo, and I eliminated the one other possibility, the man in the row behind him, by virtue of the visibility of that man’s uniform number, 19, which was worn that year by Rod Gilbreath.
There are a couple of other items of interest in this photo. In the upper row, second from the right, is Hank Aaron in his last Topps image as a Brave. Having been traded to Milwaukee just after the 1974 season, he is not included in the checklist on the back of this card and is featured elsewhere in a doctored photo as a Brewer. Opposite the second-from-right, top-row position in the photo of Hank Aaron’s ghost is a small well-dressed man in the second-from-left, bottom-row position. This may be the smallest person associated with major league baseball since 3’7" all-time on-base-percentage leader Eddie Gaedel worked a walk in his only pinch-hit appearance for Bill Veeck’s St. Louis Browns in 1951.
Rowland Office, roughly centered between the giant ghost of Hank Aaron and this tiny mystery man, wears an expression that is impossible to read, a narrow Giacometti figure reduced to little more than a shadow but refusing to completely disappear.