Good Morning From Carl Cannon

Hello, it’s June 28, 2019, the day of the week I offer a quotation intended to be inspirational. Today’s comes from a young man who played in only one Major League Baseball game, never even getting a chance to hit. Or, rather, it comes from a fictional portrayal of that ballplayer as an old man looking back on his life without regret.

I am talking, of course, about Moonlight Graham, from “Field of Dreams.”

On this date 115 years ago, the New York Giants defeated Brooklyn, pushing their lead in the pennant race to seven-and-a-half games over Pittsburgh. Famed Giants manager John McGraw decided if the next day’s game went the same way, he’d give his new rookie some action. The player was a speedster with a strong arm whose given name was Archibald W. Graham.

Image result for doc grahamAhead 10-0 the following afternoon, McGraw put Graham in right field. He played two innings, but didn’t get to bat: He was on deck in the ninth when the third out was made.

Many players over the years have had a “cup of coffee” in the big leagues. What makes this one so special? Many things, as we’ll see, but it should be noted that nobody outside of his family and the small Minnesota mining town of Chisholm knew Moonlight Graham’s name until an enchanting baseball novel titled “Shoeless Joe” came along in 1982.

Author W.P. Kinsella had unearthed the details of Archie Graham’s unusually brief career and his post-baseball life as a family physician in the Iron Range and used him as a pivotal character to move the story’s plot along.

In real life, not many rookies have nicknames, but this one did. Sportswriters called him “Doc Graham,” while other players seem to have used “Moonlight” Graham. One contemporary account in a New York newspaper said he was known as Moonlight “because he is supposed to be as fast as a flash.” This seems a stretch. A more likely explanation to me is that “Moonlight” derives from the same source as “Doc” — Archie Graham was in medical school while playing minor league baseball. He was “moonlighting” in medicine.

Many details of the man’s life are lost in the mists of memory, even the date of his birth. The Baseball Almanac says Nov. 12, 1877, while his own gravesite says 1876. The only full-length biography of the man has him being born in 1879. This later date makes more sense; he’d have been 25 in the summer of 1905, instead of 28, which seems less likely. But nobody knew during his lifetime that this discrepancy would matter because they couldn’t have known that a Canadian novelist would resurrect Graham’s career, or that Burt Lancaster would bring him to life on screen in “Field of Dreams,” the motion picture made from Kinsella’s book.

If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you. (For those who do know the story, here’s a clip of that great scene in Chisholm when protagonist Ray Kinsella meets Doc Graham; and here’s the one in Iowa in which Doc saves the life of Ray’s daughter Karin.)

But I promised you a quotation, didn’t I? Before I get to that, I need to also mention that another film was made about Doc Graham’s life. This one was a documentary produced by the Mayo Clinic in the aftermath of “Field of Dreams’ ” success. Narrated by baseball announcing immortal Vin Scully, it covers Doc Graham’s medical career. It tells how he arrived in Chisholm not knowing a soul — perhaps the only man in history to move to the Iron Range because of its weather, believing its air would be good for an asthmatic condition he’d developed. It documents how he stayed there the rest of his life, marrying a local girl, and serving four decades as the doctor for the local school system. Doc Graham had a reputation for slipping eyeglasses into the pockets of children who couldn’t afford them and he was advanced enough in his medical knowledge to minimize the town’s death rate from a 1910 typhoid outbreak and the 1918 influenza epidemic.

In addition, during visits to the Mayo Clinic for his own respiratory problems, he shared his research on hypertension in children. His theories about monitoring and treating high blood pressure in young people stood the test of time and were adopted widely.

The fictionalized version of Moonlight Graham saved one little girl from choking on a hot dog. The real Doc Graham helped save hundreds, possibly thousands, of kids.

Image result for doc grahamIn a poignant scene in both “Shoeless Joe” and “Field of Dreams,” Ray Kinsella passionately laments the brief time that Moonlight Graham spent in the majors.

“Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within — you came this close,” says Ray in the movie version. “It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy.”

Neither the novelist nor the screenwriter fully knew the truth of the ensuing dialogue they assigned to Doc Graham.

“Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes,” he replied, “now that would have been a tragedy.”

And that’s your quote of the week.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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