“Moonlight” Graham and His Brush With the Bigs

“Moonlight” Graham and His Brush With The Bigs

Archibald Wright Graham

The Game

If you have ever read W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, or caught the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, you’ve probably heard of “Moonlight” Graham. He played two innings of one game and never came to bat. That’s it. He would never play in Major League Baseball again. True story.

The single game that Graham played in took place on June 29, 1905 at Washington Park in Brooklyn. John McGraw sent “Moonlight” in to replace right fielder, George Browne in the bottom of the eighth. The Giants were up 10-0 over the hometown Brooklyn Superbas. It is not known if Graham ever had the ball hit to him, but the box score doesn’t indicate any putouts or assists. In the top of the ninth the Giants came to bat and with two outs an eager Graham waited on deck as pitcher Claude Elliot took his cuts. However, pitchers being pitchers, Elliot popped out and Graham never had his chance. In the bottom of the ninth, the Superbas scored. It’s possible that Graham may have handled a hit or two during the rally, but there is no proof. The game ended with the Giants winning 11-1.

Six days later on July 5, they sold Graham to the Scranton Miners of the New York State League (NYSL).

Archie’s Minor League Career

In 1901, Archibald Wright Graham, not yet known as “Moonlight”, graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor’s degree. Then he enrolled in a postgraduate medical course.  At UNC he played football and baseball, excelling at both, but his skills on the diamond garnered more attention and he signed his first minor league contract in 1902 with the Charlotte Hornets of the North Carolina League. Over 31 games, Archie hit .297 and stole 17 bases. Following the season he returned to Chapel Hill to complete the final year of his medical course.

The summer of 1903 found Archibald under contract to the Nashua team in the New England League. Late in the season, after a mediocre year at the plate, Graham was sold to the Manchester team of the same league. While his offensive numbers weren’t the best, his 30 stolen bases and great glove kept him in Manchester for the ’04 season. Later that year the Giants purchased his contract. That off-season, Graham continued his medical studies at the University of Maryland. In 1905, he officially signed with the Giants.

Why “Moonlight”

Graham became Doc Graham after graduating from the University of Maryland in 1905. When and why did Doc become “Moonlight”? At the time most sportswriters referred to Graham as Doc, but there were others who called him “Moonlight”. Some have speculated that the moniker of “Moonlight” comes from his moonlighting as a doctor in the off-season. Although, this speculation doesn’t hold too much weight because most ballplayers in 1905 had other jobs during the off-season. The other speculation is that the nickname comes from his speed on the base paths, which is a more plausible explanation. Also, just prior to joining the Giants for his brief stint, The Evening World, a New York newspaper defunct since 1931, stated that “[Graham] is known as ‘moonlight’ because he is supposed to be as fast as a flash.”

Life After The Bigs

The Minors

Doc had only one game in the majors that didn’t signal the end of his professional career. After being sold to the Scranton Miners, “Moonlight” finished out the 1905 season in the NYSL. Over 64 games he hit .288, splitting time between the Miners and another team in the NYSL, the Binghamton Bingoes. In 1906 he spent 12 games in the Southern Association with the Memphis Egyptians and batted .262 in 42 at bats. After his brief stint with the Egyptains, Graham returned to the Miners and his bat took off, hitting .336 in 444 at bats. The final two years of Doc’s career were spent with the Miners. In 1907 he hit .285 and stole 34 bases. The ’08 season saw him hit .263 over 130 games. At the close of the season, “Moonlight” decided to retire from professional baseball and turned his gaze to a career in medicine.

Life After Baseball

With his baseball career over, Doc planned to stay in Scranton and start a medical practice. However, serious respiratory conditions, forced him to vacate Scranton for a healthier climate. Graham wound up in Chisholm, Minnesota in 1909 and served its’ citizens for the next 50 years. Doc helped the town through the typhoid epidemic in 1910, the polio epidemic in 1914, and the influenza pandemic in 1918. He also served as the physician for the Chisholm public school system for 44 years, in which he never missed a day of work.

“Moonlight” Graham passed away at the age of 82 on August 25, 1965, leaving behind a legacy of human kindness that might have been forgotten if not for the pen of W.P. Kinsella and the movie Field of Dreams.

On June 29, 2005, 100 years after “Moonlight” Graham played in his only major league game, the Minnesota Twins held “Doc Graham Night”. During the game they played clips of Field of Dreams and passed out Doc Graham baseball cards to the fans. A fitting tribute to a life deserving of remembrance.

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Players Mentioned: Moonlight Graham, John McGraw, George Browne.