On Moonlight Graham

Field of Dreams, the movie based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe came out when I was in high school. I loved the book, and I loved the movie. It’s not my favorite baseball book. It’s not my favorite baseball movie–that would be The Natural. I would place Field of Dreams in the top five, though. It’s a touching story of the timeless mythicism of baseball, and the film’s final scenes always choke me up.

One of the characters in the film, “Moonlight” Graham, was played by Burt Lancaster in one of his final roles. Moonlight Graham was a small-town doctor the story’s protagonist goes in search of–he had played in a single game many years before, never got to bat, never got to field. Graham’s dreams of baseball glory amounted to a nameless cameo.

Well, the story of Moonlight Graham is true. And the 100th-anniversary of his single baseball appearance comes later this week.

His big league career lasted all of one game, a few fleeting moments in right field.

He stood out there on a summer afternoon so long ago, on a patch of grass since paved over in Brooklyn.

Yet many folks are certain Moonlight Graham was a made-up character from a movie, not a real-life ballplayer for the New York Giants.

“‘Field of Dreams’ was before my time,” said Willie Mays, the greatest Giant of them all. “That was a real thing? How come nobody told me?”

Yet the tale is true, at least most of it. Because on June 29, 1905–exactly 100 years ago on Wednesday–Archibald Wright Graham made his lone appearance in the majors.

He never got to hit. Instead, he was left on deck. A late substitute in a lopsided 11-1 win, he played only two innings and there’s no proof he ever touched the ball.

“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.

Who’d have thought?

2 thoughts on “On Moonlight Graham

  1. We were flipping through the Baseball Encyclopedia ten or so years ago and stumbled across his entry. I was stunned. Archie Graham was a real guy! So I looked up the novel, found it to be much better than the very good Field of Dreams, and afterward have read most of Kinsella’s fiction.

    Thanks for posting this article. It was in today’s paper, but someone stole mine. šŸ˜•

    For the record, what is your favorite baseball book ? I’d probably pick Major League for my favorite movie (I can’t not watch it if it comes on the TV) and while not strictly a baseball novel, I’d go with The Brothers K.

  2. Favorite baseball book? Brittle Innings, by Michael Bishop. Follows the trials and tribulations of a minor-league team in Georgia during World War II.

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