By Glen Sparks
Archie “Moonlight” Graham almost came to bat in a major league game.
It was June 29, 1905, and the New York Giants were beating the Brooklyn Superbas 11-1. Graham had played the last two innings in right field for New York and was on deck when pitcher Claude Elliott popped up to end the top of the ninth. Dutifully, Graham went out to the field for the bottom half of the inning.
And that was it. Moonlight Graham never played in another big league game. He never even got that one at-bat. So, why do we remember him today? Why is he included in the book Shoeless Joe and in the subsequent movie, Field of Dreams? Why was a foundation created in his honor, and why did the Minnesota Twins hold a posthumous night for him on June 29, 2005?
Simply put, people remember Graham for the work he did to help others. He served little Chisholm, Minn., for decades as a medical doctor.
Graham enrolled in medical school in 1901, the same year he made his pro baseball debut for Tarboro in the Virginia-North Carolina League. He had played both baseball and football during his undergrad days at the University of North Carolina.
Baseball scouts looked at Graham as a fast runner and a strong hitter, despite his rather slight frame. Nashua, N.H., of the New England League bought his contract in 1903, and the New York Giants purchased it Sept. 4, 1904.
The Giants brought up “Doc” Graham shortly after he graduated from medical school on May 13, 1905. Doc rode the bench for several weeks before getting his “big chance” June 29.
New York sold Graham to the Scranton Miners on July 5. Moonlight kicked around with several teams over the next few years before retiring to pursue his medical career.
He answered a newspaper ad. The town of Chisholm, 70 miles from the Canadian border, needed a doctor. So, the North Carolina native put down roots amid the Iron Range Mountains.
His first patients were immigrant families from Croatia and Serbia. He inoculated residents against a typhoid epidemic in 1910, saving lots of lives. He did similar hard work when a polio epidemic broke out in 1914 and influenza broke out in 1918.
Graham also did a notable study on children with hypertension. He published an important work in the American Journal of Diseases of Children on the effects of childhood high-blood pressure.
In the years before his death on Aug. 5, 1965, at the age of 82, Graham gave away eyeglasses to needy children and offered free medical services to low-income families.
Author W.P. Kinsella took note of Graham’s life story and his one-game big league career and included his character in Shoeless Joe. The legendary Burt Lancaster portrays Graham in Field of Dreams.
The Twins handed out baseball cards with an image of the Chisholm doctor on “Doc Graham Night” at the Metrodome. The Doc Graham Scholarship Foundation awards financial stipends every year to one outstanding male student and one female student from Chisholm High School.
Dr. Archibald Wright “Doc” “Moonlight” Graham was not simply a ballplayer with a nearly empty stats page. He was a hero to the people of Chisholm.
Happy birthday, Dr. Graham, born on this date in 1879.