Wednesday, June 29, 2005

For All You Moonlight Graham Fans Out There

There's this.

Archie Graham, also known as "Moonlight," was a central figure in the novel "Shoeless Joe" and the movie "Field of Dreams" (this is a case where the movie actually did justice to the book). Burt Lancaster played the grown-up Archie, whose claim to fame was that he got less than a cup of coffee with John McGraw's New York Giants in 1905.

Graham didn't get an at-bat (he played two innings in the field), one of only a handful of position players that has been identified as having played in the majors without getting an at-bat. That attracted him to author W.P. Kinsella, who researched Graham's background before including him as a character in the book (Graham became a doctor).

Enjoy the article at Graham is testimony, to a degree, of the adage "they also serve who stand and wait." He was a back-up, yes, but no doubt he pushed others through competition to become better and, of course, he enriched the lives of his patients in Minnesota.

I recall once, years ago, reading the transactions wire, and noted that a utility infielder named Jack Heidemann was making $12,500. That was a long time ago, and my dad asked the rhetorical question, "Do you realize how good someone who is the last man on the bench of a team had to be in high school?"

And he was right. I remember the best players from my high school were a 5'11, 225-pound pitcher who could hit as well as John Kruk and pitch very well too, and a catcher who could beat hitters running down to first base backing up a play and who could hit with authority. The former wasn't college material, didn't have a hard body that some scouts liked and wasn't disciplined enough. That said, he was born with a bat in his hand; he wasn't college material, though. The latter was the all-American guy, a natural leader, and an outstanding player who earned a scholarship to one of the best baseball schools in the east.

What happened? The stocky pitcher was signed out of HS as a pitcher and flamed out as a position player after one season of summer A ball in upstate NY. The word that came back was that he didn't hit well enough, and the organization he signed with didn't think he had enough discipline to be a big-league player. The catcher was converted to an outfielder in college, hit very well, but didn't get signed after college. He remains a good friend to this day, has a great business and a very nice family. Don't know where the stocky pitcher is -- but my bet is that he remains to this day a funny, easygoing guy who would be great to have a beer with.

We all have played the role of Moonlight Graham in our lives, and, more importantly, we've all watched Moonlight Grahams in every aspect of our lives. They are those who don't get the headlines, perhaps, but they help contribute to making our lives better.

As for the kids from my high school, well, they were very good, but, in retrospect, they were great in context. The stocky pitcher wasn't disciplined enough to get to higher levels, and the great-guy fleet catcher wasn't a consistent enough hitter and didn't have a good enough arm to make it. That's not to say they weren't good; they were very good. What is to say is how good the guys who make it to AA and beyond are. Those guys are very good indeed.

We'll all remember the superstars, the guys who grab the headlines and then the supporting players who do something so outstanding for a concentrated period of time that the feat will remain etched in our memory. But who really remembers the Moonlight Grahams, the Larry Coltons, and the many others who hit the big club for such fleeting moments that you hardly knew they were there? Most of us don't, but thanks to W.P. Kinsella, we learned the heartening story of Moonlight Graham, who, in retrospect, represents all of those players for us, forever.

1 comment:

Engagement Rings said...

I have greatly enjoyed the essays on your blog. Thank you for posting them.

I have been rereading "Shoeless Joe." I strongly recommend the book to any one who enjoyed the movie, and vice versa. My other favorite Kinsella work is "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy"