Thursday, June 30, 2005

Moonlight Graham

I wish I'd known about it sooner. I wish I hadn't only just now found out that, one hundred years ago, Archibald "Moonlight" Graham took his place in right field for that one game, that one game that would, by the longest and strangest and most winding of roads, lead America to discover Moonlight's immortality. For immortal he is, and would be even if none of us had ever heard of W. P. Kinsella, or even if W. P. Kinsella had never heard of Moonlight Graham.

My copy of Field of Dreams is at home, and I'm away on a business trip to Houston. The Astros are in Cincinnati tonight; I can't honor Doc Graham by buying a ticket for the right field bleachers at Minute Maid Park tonight, and I certainly can't go to "Moonlight Graham Night" up in Minneapolis, where most of Chisholm will be this evening. If I'd known the importance of the 29th of June, 1905, then I would have brought the DVD with me on this trip. But I didn't know; so I can't pop the movie into the laptop and watch Burt Lancaster play a character who was, down to the very umbrella he always carried and the blue his wife always wore, taken straight from real life. For here was a man on whom fiction could not improve.

W. P. Kinsella went to Chisholm thirty years ago in search of the man behind a nickname. The nickname "Moonlight" had caught his eye on the pages of the Baseball Encyclopedia. He got to Chisholm to find that the man he sought had been dead ten years...and you know the rest from the movie. For from that point on, the movie simply sets the fictional author Terence Mann into the Chisholm that Kinsella found, with the local newspaper writer who had written of Doc Graham's astonishing life, and the locals who had an endless supply of Doc-'n'-Alicia stories, and looming behind it all a man who unquestionably would have said, "If I had only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes -- now that would have been a tragedy."

Annie Kinsella is one of the most fully-realized characters in recent cinematic history, and one of my all-time favorite people, even though they made her up. But Moonlight Graham...well, Kinsella and the scriptwriters and Amy Madigan made Annie Kinsella, and you don't see it done better very often. But God, not W. P. Kinsella, made Moonlight Graham.

And Doc Graham was some of the best work God's ever done.

Hat tip: well, after all, if it's Field of Dreams, it almost has to be Sheila, doesn't it? And be sure to read the whole Strib piece from which I took every last one of my facts. And by all means go donate to the Moonlight Graham Scholarship Fund.


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