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Doc's legacy

Postby wrveres » Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:08 am


Today is the 100th anniversary of Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham's only appearance in the major leagues, his acts of kindness remain a source of pride in Chisholm, Minn.

It remains one of the most emotional movie scenes ever: Moonlight Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, steps over the line to help young Karin Kinsella, who is choking on a hot dog.

Of the many poignant moments in "Field of Dreams," that one tops them all. I don't know of anyone who didn't choke up a bit as the suddenly old Doc Graham walks off into the cornfield after saving the girl.

"In his baseball uniform, when he steps over the line to save the little girl, that hit every single one of us," said Veda Ponikvar, a longtime friend of the real Archibald "Moonlight" Graham up in Chisholm, Minn.

"He was helping children like that all the time. When they didn't feel well, or maybe there were problems in the home — maybe the father was out of a job — they'd send those kids to see Doc Graham."

For many longtime Chisholm residents, the memories of Doc Graham, who died in 1965, remain vivid.

"After school, he'd go down to the baseball field," Ponikvar said. "He watched the kids. He'd go out there and show them a few things. He and Alicia never had any of their own. All of us were their kids.

"Later in the evening, the older men came. Doc Graham used to stand there and watch them through the fence. But pretty soon he'd be right out there playing."

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Moonlight Graham's only appearance in the major leagues — a half-inning as a late-game replacement in right field for the New York Giants.

Graham never got a chance to bat, switching careers from baseball to medicine after the season. He was a doctor in Chisholm for a half-century, the school doctor for almost as long.

To commemorate Graham's big-league appearance, the Twins are holding "Moonlight Graham Day" in conjunction with today's game against the Kansas City Royals.

For many years, Ponikvar, 85, was publisher of Chisholm's weekly newspaper. She grew close to the Grahams, Doc and his wife, Alicia.

"It's unbelievable," she said. "It's phenomenal. That great man lived his whole life, and now we are honoring him."

Well, the rest of us are honoring him. Graham always has been revered in Chisholm, almost ever since he saw an ad in a medical journal — Chisholm (Mn.) looking for doctor — and hopped a train from his native North Carolina in 1911.

Now there are banners on Lake Street welcoming visitors to the home of Moonlight Graham.

"There is always somebody coming to Chisholm to see where he lived," said Mike Kalibabky, who helps run the Doc Graham Scholarship Fund. "We affectionately refer to that area as the Graham Apartments. And I have a growing collection of things that people send me in the mail.

"They go online and see the scholarship fund, and they send me things out of the blue. For example, a guy from Cincinnati sent me a photocopy of a page from a minor league yearbook with Doc Graham in a Scranton uniform."

I had always wondered if Burt Lancaster really bore a resemblance.

"Yes, in many respects he did," Ponikvar said. "He had his stance. He had character and a presence. He had the black coat and black hat as if he were our own Dr. Graham."

And just like in the movie, Graham couldn't resist buying blue hats for Alicia. Local merchants would see him strolling down the sidewalk and quickly place their best blue hats in the storefront windows.

"After he died, they cleaned out his office and they found many boxes of blue hats," Ponikvar recalled. "He'd go out and buy them to take home to Alicia."

Every year, two high school graduates receive a Doc Graham scholarship. Kalibabky, a semiretired writer, came up with the idea of selling Moonlight Graham baseball cards to help fund a scholarship program. No official baseball card ever was issued of Graham.

"Veda is sort of the matriarch of the community," Kalibabky said. "She had a photo of Doc Graham in his New York Giants uniform. Alicia Graham gave it to her after his passing. We had 5,000 printed up at a dollar a pop. Within two weeks they were gone."

That was about three years after "Field of Dreams" hit the big screen in 1989. Today the cards still are being sold to fund the scholarships, with most purchases coming at the souvenir stand at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa.

This year's scholarships will be presented today at the Metrodome.

"When the movie came out, it didn't surprise the people here," Ponikvar said. "Here was something they lived with all those years, and now it was coming out. They were very thrilled. Totally mesmerized. So much of it was absolutely true."

Ponikvar will be in attendance today, as will many other residents of Chisholm. She has been active in the community for many years and was portrayed in "Field of Dreams" by actress Anne Seymour. She says there is one more thing she'd like to do.

"Somewhere along the line, we'll have a statue for Doc Graham," she said. "We're going to get one. I'm getting old, but I've got to do that before I die."
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Postby Madison » Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:24 am

Good read. ;-D I remember the blue hat thing. B-)

To commemorate Graham's big-league appearance, the Twins are holding "Moonlight Graham Day" in conjunction with today's game against the Kansas City Royals

Cool gesture by the Twins. ;-D
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Postby j_d_mcnugent » Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:25 am

according to this story, some of the facts are a little different from the movie. he played three years in the minors after making his debut before giving up and being a doctor. but most of the important stuff is true.

Fans, players remember 'Moonlight Graham'
The Associated Press

His big-league career lasted all of one game, a few fleeting moments in right field.

He stood out there on a summer afternoon so long ago, on a patch of grass since paved over in Brooklyn.

Yet many folks are certain Moonlight Graham was a made-up character from a movie, not a real-life ballplayer for the New York Giants.

" 'Field of Dreams' was before my time," said Willie Mays, the greatest Giant of them all. "That was a real thing? How come nobody told me?"

Yet the tale is true, at least most of it. Because on June 29, 1905 -- exactly 100 years ago Wednesday -- Archibald Wright Graham made his lone appearance in the majors.

He never got to hit. Instead, he was left on deck. A late substitute in a lopsided 11-1 win, he played only two innings and there's no proof he ever touched the ball.

"Graham went to right field for New York" was his only mention in the local Evening Telegram's play-by-play account. And, just that fast, the 28-year-old rookie described in the sporting press as being "quick as a flash of moonlight" was gone.

No wonder it took quite a while for his story to get around -- and for author W.P. Kinsella to make Graham such a part of the poetry and romance that celebrate the lore and lure of baseball.

More than a decade after Graham died in 1965, the prize-winning author was leafing through the Baseball Encyclopedia that his father-in-law had given him for Christmas a few days earlier. Among the listings for every player and their lifetime stats, Kinsella came across something that stopped him.

"I found this entry for Moonlight Graham. How could anyone come up with that nickname? He played one game but did not get to bat. I was intrigued, and I made a note that I intended to write something about him," he said.

A few years later, he did. His 1982 novel "Shoeless Joe" was adapted into the 1989 film "Field of Dreams," and Moonlight was reborn.

Eventually, there was a band called Moonlight Graham, a couple of Web sites were dedicated to him and a scholarship fund established in his honor.

"I didn't anticipate this happening," Kinsella said in a telephone interview from his home in British Columbia.

In the movie, Graham's name mystically flickers onto the score board at Fenway Park. Reflecting on the one at-bat he never got in the bigs, he says: "Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day."

And he asks, "Is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?"

Veda Ponikvar knew Graham for almost a half-century in Chisholm, Minn. He arrived around 1912 after the town placed a newspaper ad for a school doctor, and Ponikvar said he never talked about his ballplaying.

Or explained his enchanting nickname.

"I think it was because by the light of the moon, he practiced his game," she guessed. "But some people said it was because he moonlighted as a doctor."

No matter, she said, Burt Lancaster's kindly portrayal was perfect.

"I remember probably in the third grade when he inoculated me for scarlet fever," she said. "I still have the mark on my arm. Growing up, I thought it was the most horrible thing. Later on, I thought, 'Oh, Doc Graham, you're pretty precious. You left your mark.' "

Now in her mid-80s, she'll be at the Metrodome this Wednesday to throw out the first ball before Kansas City plays Minnesota on Moonlight Graham Day.

All because of sheer luck.

When Kinsella thumbed through the Baseball Encyclopedia, he easily could've turned to the pages for Twink Twining, Goat Cochran or Steamboat Struss. Of the more than 16,000 players in major-league history, they're also among the 900-plus guys in the Elias Sports Bureau registry who only got into one game.

"I had no backup," Kinsella said. "My approach to fiction writing is that when I need facts, I invent them. So I would have invented a background for Moonlight Graham, but I'm sure nothing as wonderful as the truth.

"It was a gold mine."

OK, so what if he really didn't play on the last day of the 1922 season, as in the movie? Or that he batted left-handed, rather than righty in the film? Or that he got sent down after his one big-league game and spent three more years in the minors?

Those blue hats he bought for his wife, Alecia? "Absolutely true," Ponikvar said. And the way he patted children to clear food stuck in their throats? "He did it to me," she said.

Oh, another fact: His younger brother, Frank Porter Graham, was a U.S. senator from North Carolina.

In all, it's a story that fans everywhere embraced. Well, most everyone.

"I didn't see 'Field of Dreams.' I don't watch movies about what I do," San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds said.

On the other hand, Los Angeles Angels star Darin Erstad estimated he's watched it 20-30 times.

"It's a special thing because it's a dream of a lot of kids out there, to have the opportunity to put on a big league uniform for just that one time. And that part of the movie really summed that up," he said.

"When you see guys who are career minor leaguers who get an opportunity to come up -- and even if they're not up for a long time -- they can always say that all that hard work they put in was worth it."

A pretty good hitter for three years in the minors, Giants manager John McGraw invited Graham to spring training in 1905, but Graham declined because he wanted to finish medical school. According to extensive work by Bill Moose for the Society for American Baseball Research, Graham finally joined the Giants on May 23.

Five weeks later, he made his debut at Brooklyn's Washington Park -- built before Ebbets Field, it's now a depot for the Con Edison power company.

In a game against the Superbas -- the forerunners of the Dodgers -- Graham replaced George Browne in right field for the bottom of the eighth inning. Nothing was hit his way.

Then he was left on deck in the ninth when pitcher Claude Elliott flied out. In the bottom half, Graham might have gotten a play.

Switch-hitter Charlie Malay singled -- presumably, he was batting left-handed against the right-handed Elliott -- and perhaps he pulled it in Graham's direction. But there's simply no record of where the ball went.

"It's possible that maybe he touched it," Moose said. "No telling for sure."

Last edited by j_d_mcnugent on Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby WharfRat » Wed Jun 29, 2005 10:26 am

Great post. ;-D ;-D

It always made me mad that if someone had just bothered to learn the Heimlich, Moonlight wouldn't have had to step over the line. But then we wouldn't have had one of the best scenes in a movie full of great ones.
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Postby bigh0rt » Wed Jun 29, 2005 12:25 pm

Excellent post. ;-D
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Postby acsguitar » Wed Jun 29, 2005 3:48 pm

nice post!
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