To borrow from “Casey at the Bat”, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for last week’s adult book club. We all liked W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe--not an ideal situation. Book group veterans will tell you that an occasional “hated it!” or “who chose this book anyway?” can spark a lively give-and-take. Sadly, unanimous approval can morph into a quick, party-pooping round of compliments with nowhere to go from there (at least nowhere fun).
Thank goodness we disagreed on the book-vs-movie question. I still contend that Field of Dreams, while a nice film, can’t hold a candle to Shoeless Joe, its literary inspiration. The opposing camp, though, was more than adequately represented. As one alert researcher pointed out, you can hardly fault the moviemakers’ changing the J.D. Salinger character, given that Salinger’s legal representation expressed definite views.
And then we reverted back to total accord–though with plenty to say about everyone’s favorite character: Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Burt Lancaster’s poignant portrayal of the New York Giant who played in only one inning of one big-league game is memorable cinema. Moonlight, who trades in his glove for a worthy career as a small-town physician, doesn’t regret his choice but yearns to have experienced just one time at bat. The character’s name and the premise are wonderful–and they’re not fiction.
Several sources, including Keith Olbermann’s “Moonlight Graham Remembered”, quote Kinsella as reporting that he discovered Moonlight Graham while exploring The Baseball Encyclopedia. “Doc” Graham really did live in Chisholm, Minnesota, and did achieve the beloved reputation described in Shoeless Joe. Graham even accomplished pioneering research on children’s blood pressure. And what about the “Moonlight” moniker? Though Kinsella invents a charming scenario for the book, most sources believe the nickname came either from Graham’s speed or from the fact that he was “moonlighting” as a medical student.
If you, too, are a Moonlight Graham fan, you should come into the library and see his listing in The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia; it’s on page 537, along with Skinny Graham and Peaches Graham. You could also check out http://theghostofmoonlightgraham.com. I recently ordered Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dream’s Doc Graham (by Brett Friedlander and R. W. Reising); it should appear in the library catalog in the near future. Finally–are you even surprised to learn of a Cincinnati rock band called “Moonlight Graham”?