A Glimpse of Moonlight

Part of the POP UPS series
Written by: Tom Shieber

One of the nearly 20,000 books in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library is a volume published in 1911 and titled “Humor Among the Minors: True Tales from the Baseball Brush.” In the book, career minor leaguer-turned-author Eddie Ashenbach (sometimes misspelled “Ashenback”) reminisces about his two decades in professional baseball. One story he recounts is titled “An Alias That Did Not Last Long.”

On my champion Scranton club of 1906 I had a young outfielder that Manager [John] McGraw of the Giants was kind enough to send on to me for further development. Graham was not much of a batsman, but was chain lightning on the bases and in the outfield. He had some scruples about playing Sunday baseball, his father having strictly forbidden him to play on the Sabbath. My club was then a contender for the championship, and the fight promised to be a close one. I could ill afford to lose his services on the Sabbath, as we usually played a double-header on that day, so I prevailed upon him to play under an assumed name. Graham consented to this proposition and decided to play under the name of Wright. He was quite a fighter while in the game and his aggressiveness once led him into a fracas on a bright Sunday at Scranton when he and the umpire indulged in a battle of fisticuffs in the middle of the diamond. On another Sunday at Syracuse, Graham, alias Wright, had a glorious day at the bat. Out of four times up, he hit out a home run, two three-base-hits and a single. He was very much pleased at his big day's work, and after the fourth time at bat he rushed wildly up to the press-box saying to the reporters, “Look here, boys, my name is not Wright today, it's Graham.” Four hits killed off the alias.

Just who was this Graham? Like Ashenbach, he was a minor league ballplayer. But, unlike the author of “Humor Among the Minors”, Archibald Wright Graham managed to crack the big leagues for a brief “cup of coffee.” Though virtually unknown for most of the 20th century, Graham later gained fame as a character in “Field of Dreams,” a movie based on the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. In Kinsella’s book, J.D. Salinger (“Jerry”) and protagonist Ray Kinsella discuss the mysterious Graham:

“Do you know who Moonlight Graham is?” Jerry asks.

“Only what you know — a baseball player who was patted on the head by a dream. A man who played one inning of baseball for the New York Giants during the 1905 season. He never came to bat. He was just a substitute fielder for one inning.”

“How can he be important?”

“That’s what we have to find out. It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?”

“But how do we find out?”

“Well, we could be in Cooperstown, at the Baseball Hall of Fame, in just a few hours. That might be a good place to start.”

“But one inning ...”

“They have records there on everyone who ever played in the majors, and cabinets full of minor-league records.”

The Hall of Fame's collection includes a rare postcard of the 1905 Class B New York State League Scranton (PA) Miners. Nine players, Manager Ashenbach, and his son piled into a 1905 Oldsmobile touring automobile for the team photo. In the back of the car, identified by a number 5 written on his shoulder, sits the 27-year-old Archie “Moonlight” Graham.

The 1905 Scranton Miners. As numbered: 1) Ed Ashenbach, 2) Gus Zeimer, 3) Larry Hannifin, 4) Chummy Gray, 5) Archie “Moonlight” Graham, 6) Charlie Gettig, 7) Fred Betts, 8) Joe Schrall, 9) Ed Shortell, 10) Harry Manners, 11) Ed Ashenbach Jr. BL-194.2015 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Author W.P. Kinsella was right. The Hall of Fame Library does have records for everyone who ever played in the majors ...even those who played in just a single game. And the extensive archives do include information about minor leaguers ... as well as thousands of other people who have touched baseball, in big ways and small.

Tom Shieber is the senior curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum features a collection of nearly 250,000 photographs like this one. Reproductions are available for purchase. To purchase a reprint of this photograph or others from the Photo Archive collections, please call (607) 547-0375 or email [email protected]. Hall of Fame members receive a 10-percent discount.

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Part of the POP UPS series