UPSTATE N.Y. SPORTS LORE: Moonlight Graham comes to Fulton County
Universal Studios released the blockbuster baseball movie called ‘Field of Dreams,’ 30 years ago this summer.
The movie was written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson, in which he adapted W.P. Kinsella’s novel ‘Shoeless Joe.’
The movie starred Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta (as Shoeless Joe Jackson), Frank Whaley and Burt Lancaster, along with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as extras. It also featured pop songs that were written or performed by Willie Nelson, Beverly D’Angelo, The Lovin’ Spoonfuls, The Allman Brothers Band, The Doobie Brothers and Duke Ellington. Initially released on April 21, 1989, the movie was very successful and ran in theaters through December 1989. It received nominations for three Academy Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.
The movie is a sentimental mix of fiction and non-fiction baseball history, that tugs at viewers heart strings through family connections and second chances. It features several story lines running simultaneously with tormented souls getting second opportunities to right the wrongs in their lives. One of the prevalent story lines of the movie centers around a baseball player turned doctor named Archibald Wright Graham (aka “Moonlight” or “Doc”). Graham was a professional player who appeared in one game for the New York Giants and did not get an official Major League at bat. He is played by both Burt Lancaster (in his last movie role) as an elderly doctor at the end of his life, as well as by Frank Whaley who takes on the role of Graham as a 20 something player in his playing prime. Much of the movie centers around getting Graham to a unique “Field of Dreams” built in the middle of an Iowa cornfield by a novice farmer named Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner). This allows Graham to play against former Major Leaguers (appearing as ghost players in their playing primes) and get his long awaited Major League at bat, freeing his soul to return to being “Doc” Graham.
What most viewers do not realize is that Graham’s character is based on a real player who did actually appear in just one Major League Game with the New York Giants. However, the movie took some creative liberties and tweaked Graham’s history to add to the story line. In real life, the 27 year old rookie actually appeared in two full innings in right field for the Giants (not one). In real life he batted left-handed (not right-handed). The sign on the scoreboard at Fenway Park in the movie says that he played his one game in 1922, where as in real life it was in 1905. In the movie, Kinsella meets Graham in 1972, but Graham actually died in 1965. The movie also says that he was born in Chisholm, Minn., when in fact he was born in Fayetteville, N.C., and settled in Chisholm during his adult life.
And the biggest differences between the movie and Graham’s real life, as well as one that connects the movie to Upstate New York, are that his one Major League game was not on the last day of the season and Graham did not quit baseball to go study to become a doctor at the conclusion of that game. In reality, the one game with the New York Giants took place on June 25, 1905. Also, Graham had recently graduated from the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore on May 13, 1905, and then immediately joined the New York Giants to officially begin his 1905 season.
The 27-year-old Graham had actually been playing professionally since 1901 and simultaneously working towards his medical degree during the baseball off season. Since he was late in reporting to the Giants, it is believed that he did not hold much favor with manager John McGraw. McGraw was old school and had no use for educated players, let alone one who showed up late because of it (school). Because of this, Graham sat idle on the Giants bench for the next few weeks, unable to prove himself. And after that infamous one game stint in which he got to take the field, he stayed with the Giants for a few more days until McGraw sent him to play for the Scranton Miners of the Class B New York State League (equivalent to the AA level today) in Scranton, Pa., on July 5.
Upon joining the Scranton club, his first two games were in a doubleheader on July 7 in Upstate New York against the A., J. & G’s at the Johnstown Fair Grounds (area off of Perry Street between Townsend Avenue and Miller Street in Johnstown). He played left field and served as the Miners leadoff hitter. In the first game he went 1 for 5. His one hit was a triple which drove in a run and helped Scranton beat the A., J. & G’s by a score of 4-3. In the second game he was held hitless, but recorded 3 put outs as a left fielder. The paid attendance for his first series as a Scranton Miner was just 568 local fans who were unknowingly witnessing a historical baseball figure that would be immortalized nearly eighty five years later by what many people consider to be the greatest sports film ever created. During the 1905 season Graham would participate in a total of 10 games against the A., J. & G’s of Upstate New York. Four of those games took place at the Johnstown Fairgrounds, one at Creeler Park in Amsterdam (considered an A., J. & G home game) and five in Scranton. In those 10 games he collected 14 hits in 35 times at-bat to compile very respectable batting average of .400 against the A., J. & G’s, who were the New York State League Champions that season. He also recorded and impressive 11 put outs from his defensive perch in left field. In all, Graham appeared in 64 games with Scranton that season in which he batted .288, stole 10 bases and was a fan favorite. News of Grahams exploits at Scranton reached McGraw in New York and media sources reported that he was expected to bring him back to the Major Leagues when Scranton’s season was over. However, Graham had other ideas and left the Scranton club with five games remaining in the regular season in late August. Instead of waiting to be called back up to the Major Leagues, he traveled to Baltimore where he spent the winter doing post graduate work in pathology at John Hopkins University. Had he finished out the season and returned to New York, he most certainly would have been part of the New York Giants 1905 World Series Championship team that beat Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in the second ever World Series.
Graham was back with the Scranton Miners for the 1906, 1907 and 1908 seasons, during which time he received his medical certification and set up his first medical practice in Scranton. 1906 proved to be his best season in professional baseball in which he had 149 hits, stole 38 bases and won the New York State League batting title with a .336 average.
During that season, he and the Scranton Club would visit Fulton County on two different occasions to play the A., J. & G’s at their newly built A., J. & G Park on Harrison Street in Gloversville. Today this park is known as Parkhurst Field. The A., J. & G club had won the 1905 New York State League title and because of their popularity, team ownership (the F., J. & G Railroad) built a brand new stadium about a mile and half north of the old Johnstown Fairgrounds diamond to accommodate an expected surge in attendance in the coming seasons.
While Graham was the toast of the league that year and had dominated the A., J. & G’s each time he faced them the previous season, he did not fare so well against them at the new A., J. & G. Park/Parkhurst Field, garnering only two hits in nine at-bats in games at the Gloversville Field on August 29th and 30th. He was back with Scranton in 1907 and returned to play at A., J. & G Park/Parkhurst Field on May 24, May 25, July 16 and two games on July 18. He did not fare as well in Gloversville that year either, getting only four hits in 29 at bats, for a two season cumulative batting average of just .138. While Graham spent the 1908 season back in Scranton, no records exist showing him having played at Parkhurst Field as the team relocated to Auburn New York mid-season. Graham retired from baseball at the conclusion of the 1908 season and settled in Chisholm, Minn., where he researched and published innovative studies on children’s health and served as the chief physician for the Chisholm public schools until shortly before his death in 1965 at the age of 87.
To think that Graham’s first game, first base hit, and first run batted in after his infamous two inning stint in the major leagues that was immortalized in the 1989 Hollywood blockbuster film would come against a team from Fulton County, at a field in Fulton County! And the fact that a field in Gloversville called Parkhurst Field that most know as the Gloversville Little League Fields, is now regarded as the “last remaining field still in use” that Moonlight Doc Graham actually played on is very unique in the scope of baseball history.
Today, the site of the movies filming in Dyersville Iowa is a popular destination for baseball enthusiasts, drawing more than 50,000 baseball visitors per year. However, if you live in the Northeast there is really no need to travel to Iowa, as we have the “Original Field of Dreams” right here in our own backyard at Parkhurst Field. In addition, housed at this site is the Parkhurst Field Museum which documents the history of the park from 1906 to present and features a special exhibit on Archibald Graham and his time with the Scranton Miners. To further pay homage to the legendary Archie Graham, the Parkhurst Field Foundation is presently raising funds for a $2.3M renovation project that will create a baseball destination for players from around the world wanting to be able to stand in the very same batter’s box that Moonlight Graham once stood and play on the same outfield expanses that he once patrolled. Visit www.parkhurstfield.org to learn how you can donate and/or get involved with the project.
A special airing of Universal Studio’s 1989 ‘Field of Dreams’ film is scheduled to take place on Saturday August 10th (at dusk) at Parkhurst Field located at Harrison Street in Gloversville. Admission is free and is courtesy of the Gloversville Recreation Commission, who is underwriting and running the event. The event is open to the public and is a unique way to experience a piece of both cinematic and baseball history on the actual site where one of the characters portrayed performed in real life. And will a few ‘ghost players’ from the movie being showing up? I guarantee it!
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com, email; email@example.com or call (518) 725-5565.