June 29, 2005


Chisholm's Doc Graham: One-game flop, but lifetime hero (Larry Oakes, June 29, 2005, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

In the movie "Field of Dreams," the elderly Doc Graham asks a visitor to Chisholm named Ray if there could possibly be enough magic in the moonlight to make long-buried wishes come true.

In real life, that question has no verifiable answer. But this much is true, verifiable and pretty remarkable:

There is indeed enough magic to transform a small town's long-buried doctor into a famous literary and cinematic figure. There is enough magic to resurrect him simply for his poetic nickname and obscure moment in baseball, and then immortalize him for a lifetime of kindness that almost no one knew outside the little mining town he loved.

Today, busloads of Chisholm residents are descending from their home on the Iron Range to the Metrodome, to help the Minnesota Twins honor Archibald (Moonlight) Graham on the 100th anniversary of his single brief appearance in the major leagues.

The travelers will include Veda Ponikvar, the retired Chisholm newspaper editor who barely mentioned Graham's baseball career when she wrote his obituary in 1965 and a separate editorial titled: "His was a Life of Greatness."

"Long before the movie, I recognized that he was someone very special," said Ponikvar, 85, the inspiration for the newspaper editor-character in the movie.

In the past few weeks Ponikvar has fielded questions from television networks and other national media outlets calling about the centennial. She never gets tired of talking about Doc.

She may have said it best in her much-photocopied editorial: "There were times when children could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing because of the economic upheavals, strikes and depressions.

"Yet no child was ever denied these essentials because in the background there was a benevolent, understanding Doctor Graham. Without a word, without any fanfare or publicity, the glasses or the milk or the ticket to the ball game found their way into the child's pocket." [...]

The magic in Moonlight's case happened when his nickname intrigued W.P. Kinsella in the 1970s, as he thumbed through the Baseball Encyclopedia.

He was researching his book "Shoeless Joe," which became the movie "Field of Dreams." He later said he wondered what becomes of a man who finally grasps his dream, only to watch it slip away.

On a hot Friday afternoon in the mid-1970s, several years before the book came out, a 1930s-era rumble-seat Ford pulled up in front of the Chisholm Free Press.

The men who got out introduced themselves to Ponikvar as W.P. Kinsella and J.D. Salinger, whom she immediately recognized as the reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye." They wanted help finding Doc Graham.

They seemed stunned to learn that he'd been dead for a decade.

They hung around for three days, Ponikvar recalled, filling notebooks with anecdotes, discovering that far from fading into embittered nothingness in Chisholm, Graham blossomed into greatness.

Kinsella later said there was no need to fictionalize Doc Graham's life; it was better than anything he could make up.

This is all getting way too meta.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2005 6:43 AM

There's no such thing as too meta.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 29, 2005 12:22 PM

Wasn't the character in the novel also named Kinsella? And he and Salinger really did show up to research Graham's life and try to meet him if possible?

Holy crap. How long before Kinsella's family admits he heard voices or we see a photograph of him with Shoeless Joe?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 30, 2005 3:31 AM

I'm not a baseball fan, but I might have to read the book after all the talk here. I've seen the movie several times and like it.

He put milk in kids' pockets?

Posted by: RC at June 30, 2005 9:28 AM