Posts Tagged ‘Moonlight Graham’

“If I’d Only Gotten to be a Doctor for Five Minutes”

August 27, 2015
Cover of "Chasing Moonlight"

Cover of “Chasing Moonlight”

Alright, admit it, you’ve all seen the movie Field of Dreams and you’ve fallen in love with an utterly obscure ballplayer named Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham. It’s OK to admit it, team. All of us have taken the plunge. All of us have taken the plunge into the frankly maudlin scene where Burt Lancaster delivers the line above. Maybe the best plunge was taken by two writers who, in 2009, wrote a biography of the now legendary player.

Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of “Field of Dreams” Doc Graham is a fairly short biography of Graham by authors Brett Friedlander and Robert Reisling. They admit to having never heard of Graham before the movie and being curious when they discovered he was a real ballplayer. So they set out to do research on him and the book is the happy result of their efforts.

The book follows Graham’s life from his birth in North Carolina to a fairly substantial family. His father was the first superintendent of schools in Fayetteville, North Carolina and the son was well-educated. He also played ball well and was one of a number of men of the era who used sports as a way to make money to finance his career dreams. In Graham’s case that was to become a doctor.

The baseball stuff is toward the beginning of the book and details the life of a career minor leaguer (and that one special day in 1905 when he played right field for the Giants) who was intelligent and working toward a medical degree in the off-season. His “moonlighting” as an intern and student led, the authors believe, to the famous nickname.

But the bulk of the book and to me the best part concerns Graham’s life after he left baseball. He migrated to Chisholm, Minnesota, settled down, got married, became the town’s doctor, and spent years as the school district’s physician. He became briefly famous in the 1940s for a paper he wrote about children and high blood pressure, but essentially settled into the quite, normal, perhaps tedious life of a small town doctor.

The book is a fascinating study of small town American life in the first half of the Twentieth Century and is worth reading for that alone. Throw in the baseball aspects and you’ve got a book most ball fans will like. The book is available in paperback for under $10 at Amazon.com and can be purchased at a number of other online sites. Worth checking out, team.

And by the way, Dwier Brown, who played Daddy Kinsella in Field of Dreams has written a book about his life and how his experiences with the movie changed it. Haven’t read it, but when/if I do, I’ll drop a short review here.

1910: Shoeless Joe

July 30, 2010

Joe Jackson at Cleveland

On this date one hundred years ago, the Philadelphia Athletics sent Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) to Cleveland. Jackson was signed by Connie Mack in 1908. He played a handful of games in both 1908 and 1909, decided he hated Philadelphia, the big cities, and the travel, so he returned to South Carolina and did not report in 1910. By the end of July, Mack gave up on him and sent his contract to Cleveland. Jackson reported to Cleveland, got into 20 games and hit .387 with a home run, four stolen bases, and 29 hits. This time he stayed around and became a star. In fairness to Jackson, he was only 18 in 1908.

I’ve made a point of staying away from posts dealing specifically with Jackson for a reason. He is one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history. Only Pete Rose and Barry Bonds rival him as a controversial player. I feel my job here is to inform, not confront. You want confrontation, go visit a political blog. Lots to “confront” about. Having said that, it’s time to deal with Shoeless Joe.

Let me start by saying I’d have given everything I ever had, including my first-born, to have been Moonlight Graham and gotten into just one Major League game. Jackson got that chance and threw it away. I have, therefore, little sympathy for him. He was a star, the idol of millions (whether one of them ever said “Say it ain’t so, Joe” or not), a great ballplayer and he decided he wanted more money. Well, Joe, so do I, but I’m not willing to compromise certain principles for it. Now I know there are a lot of defenses of Jackson. Let’s take a look at some of them:

1. He was underpaid. So what? I’m underpaid. My wife is underpaid. My first-born (who I was willing to give up a paragraph or two ago) is underpaid. Most of you reading this are underpaid. Does that make it OK to, in Jackson’s case, throw the World Series? Surely not.

2. He was too stupid to know what he was doing. Oh, really? What did he think they were giving him the bribe money for, his looks? Besides unlettered and stupid are two different things. There’s ample evidence that Jackson was illiterate, but also evidence he wasn’t stupid. He had a meal routine that belies stupidity. He always ate with a teammate. If the waitress came to him first he’d tell her he hadn’t decided yet and to get everybody else’s order and come back. He’d then listen to what they ordered and get one of the same things. If he wasn’t first, his response was “I’ll have what he’s having.” That’s not a stupid man there. In fact that’s rather clever.

3. Comiskey was a jerk. Got me there; Comiskey was a jerk. But Comiskey isn’t the one throwing games. Comiskey’s human qualities are not in question here, Jackson’s are. And to my mind, Jackson is as big a jerk as Comiskey and two wrongs don’t make either man right, or less of a jerk.

4. Jackson played OK in the series. That’s sort of right. But if you break down his series by at bats you see he doesn’t come through in crucial situations. His home run, as a simple example, is after the final game is already lost. He drives in six runs, but all in games the Sox win or in meaningless situations (like the home run). I’ll give you that Gandil and Cicotte and Williams are greater villains in losing games, but that doesn’t make Jackson any kind of hero.

So there, I’ve said my piece. Obviously I don’t like Jackson and have no wish to see him in Cooperstown. I accept that some other people do. It’s a free country. They’re entitled to be wrong.

Dr. Charles Thomas-Catcher

January 17, 2010

Most of us know the Branch Rickey story about the black catcher who couldn’t get a room in South Bend, Indiana. Rickey credited the event and the player with making Rickey determined to integrate Major League Baseball. So who’s this guy that led us to Jackie Robinson? Meet Dr. Charles Thomas, dentist and sometime catcher.

Charles Thomas was born in Weston, West Virginia in 1881. In 1884 his family moved to Ohio where Thomas grew up. In high school he was a star player and in 1904 began attending Ohio Wesleyian University, where they had a baseball team managed by Branch Rickey. Thomas became the team’s primary catcher, playing an occasional game at first or in center field. He hit 321 for a career. That number is the best research can find on him. I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on its accuracy. No other stats seem to be available.

After leaving college he played for few years starting in 1916 for he Baltimore Black Sox. But, like Field of Dreams character Moonlight Graham, his calling was in medicine, specifically dentistry. He became a qualified dentist and practiced a number of places before settling in Albequerque, New Mexico where he practiced 40 years. He remained in contact with Rickey but seems to have played no part in the signing of Jackie Robinson other than being informed by Rickey. Charles Thomas died in 1971.

I was surprised how little was known about Thomas, considering how famous the South Bend incident has become over the years. He seems to have dropped into the obscurity in which most of us live our lives. It’s nice to take a moment and remember him. We all owe him a lot.