Late on the afternoon of June 29, 1905, Archibald Graham bolted out of the New York Giants' dugout and took his position in right field for the first and only time as a major league baseball player. He played only and inning and a half. The Giants made their last out as Graham waited in the on-deck circle. The 27-year-old journeyman, who was affectionately known as "Moonlight" because of his off-season occupation as a medical student, was sent back to the minors and, presumably, into permanent obscurity.
In the mid-1980s, nearly 20 years after Graham's death, author W. P. Kinsella stumbled across a single line entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia while he was researching a book about Shoeless Joe Jackson. It was the name Moonlight Graham that first caught Kinsella's attention, but the fact that Graham never got to bat in the majors made him even more interesting to a fiction writer. Graham became a secondary character in Kinsella's book Shoeless Joe.
In 1989, Hollywood director and screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson decided that Graham deserved a larger audience. In Robinson's cinematic classic, Field of Dreams, Academy Award-winning actor Burt Lancaster played Doc Graham in what would be his final screen appearance. The once little-known country doctor from Chisholm, Minnesota, became an international icon, a man whose longing to bat in the majors became a reality on the dream-inspired diamond near the town of Dyersville, Iowa. More than a million people have since traveled to the corn-framed movie set in hopes that some of Graham's baseball magic might be channeled into their own lives. He became so well known as a ballplayer that a film crew travelled from Tokyo, Japan, to do a documentary about him and a California company trademarked his name for its line of baseball-themed apparel.
But what's the real story of Moonlight Graham? Why did a quiet North Carolina native, whose family was well known throughout the state, spend the bulk of his adult life in an isolated Iron Range community not far from the Canadian border?
In Chasing Moonlight, the authors follow Graham's life from his youth spent with his younger brother, Frank Porter Graham, who became the president of the University of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator; through his career as a medical student in Baltimore and New York while he played baseball at the same time; through his minor league successes in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In Graham's Minnesota years, the authors reveal a man whose pioneering research on children's blood pressure is still used at institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and whose quiet philanthropy made him beloved in his community.
Although the line between fact and fiction has been blurred with respect to the events of Graham's life, Chasing Moonlight shows that the real Moonlight Graham was just as iconic and endearing as the fictional character.