Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Happy Anniversary, Moonlight Graham!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the debut and retirement of Moonlight Graham! His big league career lasted all of one game, a few fleeting moments in right field. Graham lived and died unnoticed by most until receiving recognition in Kevin Costner's "Field of Dreams" movie back in 1989. Since no one had heard of him, most thought Graham's character was made up.

Yet the tale is true, at least most of it. According to this story on Sports Illustrated, Graham was a pretty good hitter for three years in the minors. Giants manager John McGraw invited him to spring training in 1905, but Graham declined because he wanted to finish medical school. According to extensive work by Bill Moose for the Society for American Baseball Research, Graham finally joined the Giants on May 23.

Five weeks later, he made his debut at Brooklyn's Washington Park -- built before Ebbets Field, it's now a depot for the Con Edison power company. In a game against the Superbas -- the forerunners of the Dodgers _ Graham replaced George Browne in right field for the bottom of the eighth inning in a lopsided 11-1 game.

Then he was left on deck in the ninth when pitcher Claude Elliott flied out. In the bottom half, Graham may have gotten a play. Switch-hitter Charlie Malay singled -- presumably, he was batting lefty against the righty Elliott -- and perhaps he pulled it in Graham's direction. But there's simply no record of where the ball went. "It's possible that maybe he touched it," Moose said. "No telling for sure."

"Graham went to right field for New York" was his only mention in the local Evening Telegram's play-by-play account. And, just that fast, the 28-year-old rookie described in the sporting press as being "quick as a flash of moonlight" was gone.

And we was - for almost half a century. More than a decade after Graham died in 1965, the prize-winning author W.P. Kinsella was leafing through the Baseball Encyclopedia that his father-in-law had given him for Christmas a few days earlier. Among the listings for every player and their lifetime stats, Kinsella came across something that stopped him.

"I found this entry for Moonlight Graham. How could anyone come up with that nickname? He played one game but did not get to bat. I was intrigued, and I made a note that I intended to write something about him," he said. A few years later, he did. His 1982 novel Shoeless Joe was adapted into the 1989 film Field of Dreams, and Moonlight was reborn.

Now, on the 100th anniversary of his professional baseball debut, the Minnesota Twins will officially honor Graham with "Moonlight Graham Day" in conjunction with today's game against the Kansas City Royals.

When Kinsella thumbed through the Baseball Encyclopedia, he could've easily turned to the pages for Twink Twining, Goat Cochran or Steamboat Struss. Of the more than 16,000 players in major league history, they're also among the 900-plus guys in the Elias Sports Bureau registry who got into only one game.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Yeah, yeah, I know. But what's wrong with his doctrine?