Thanks to the movie Field of Dreams, almost everybody has heard of Moonlight Graham. As a right fielder for the New York Giants, Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham made his Major League debut on 29 June 1905, at the age of twenty-seven. In the bottom of the eighth inning against the Brooklyn Superbas, Graham came into the game as a defensive replacement for George Browne. He never had the opportunity to step up to the plate, however, standing in the on-deck circle as Claude Elliott flied out to end the top of the ninth. Graham played again defensively in the bottom of the ninth, but never had the chance to record an at-bat as the Giants won 11-1. It would be his only Major League appearance, as he was sent back to the minors the following day.
Completing his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1905 (where he also played halfback for the school’s football team in 1904 and 1905), Graham concluded his baseball career in 1908. He went on to obtain his license and began practicing medicine in Chisholm, Minnesota. “Doc” Graham served as a good and loyal doctor to the people of Chisholm for fifty years. He died in 1965.
In 1975, W. P. Kinsella happened to read about Graham’s short-lived baseball career in The Baseball Encyclopedia. He included Moonlight Graham as a character in his 1982 novel, Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams is based.
Here’s a poem out of a book that a close friend gave to me a few years ago. The book is Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend: Women Writers on Baseball, edited by Elinor Nauen, and it is a collection of stories, poems, essays, and memoirs about baseball written by women. I love the layers of meaning in this piece.
When you tried to tell me
baseball was a metaphor
for life: the long, dusty travail
around the bases, for instance,
to try to go home again;
the Sacrifice for which you win
approval but not applause;
the way the light closes down
in the last days of the season–
I didn’t believe you.
It’s just a way of passing
the time, I said.
And you said: that’s it.
Sometimes, if you’re a pitcher, it seems elusive. If you’re a batter, it can sometimes seem larger than life. The strike zone — in some ways, it is baseball’s version of the Twilight Zone: sometimes it’s hard to tell where it really is.
The strike zone is the area over home plate through which a pitcher must pitch the ball in order for the pitch to be called a strike if the batter does not swing. The idea is that the ball must pass through an area where the batter has a chance to put the ball into play if he swings at it. According to the MLB’s Official Rules:
The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.
Or, to make things simpler, many regard the area from the elbows to the bottom of the knees as the vertical axis of the strike zone.
The size of the strike zone has not remained static through the years. Major League Baseball will sometimes make the official strike zone larger or smaller in order to maintain a balance of power between pitchers and hitters. For example, after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in the 1961 season, the strike zone was stretched to extend from the top of the batter’s shoulders to the bottom of the knees. Then, in 1968, pitchers such as Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, and Denny McLain utterly dominated hitters. As a result, not only was the size of the strike zone reduced in 1969, but the height of the pitchers mound was also reduced from 15 inches to 10 inches tall.
At the end of the day, though, enforcement of the strike zone lies with the home plate umpire. As any player or fan of the game knows, the size — and, sometimes, even the shape — of the strike zone can vary from one umpire to the next. As a result, pitchers and hitters often find themselves having to adjust their expectations according to those of the umpire. And, sometimes, the umpire can be the most loved or the most hated person in the ballpark.
What’s true for the people who play baseball is true in different ways for those of us who mostly just watch it. On the one hand, a baseball stadium becomes a kind of home for many of us who go often. Whether it’s a big league stadium where you can leave your peanut shells scattered beneath your seat or a high school field where you know the person who chalks the base paths every Thursday, it’s a personal space. You can keep score with your private notation system, sound of authoritatively on what Bud Selig is doing wrong, or tell an ump that he’s missed a call even when you are 140 feet and a bad angle away from the plate.
~Eric Bronson, Baseball and Philosophy
The very first organized baseball game is said to have been played on 19 June 1846. The contest took place between Alexander Cartwright’s New York Knickerbockers and the New York Nine. Cartwright himself umpired the game, which was played on Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey using Cartwright’s rules for play. The New York Nine defeated the Knickerbockers 23-1.
I just finished watching Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball: The Tenth Inning. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have yet to watch the original Baseball documentary, but when I found The Tenth Inning at the public library, I had to jump on the opportunity to at least watch that much.
The Tenth Inning is a two-DVD set that covers the story of Major League Baseball through the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. From the strike of 1994, to the influx of Latino players, to the home run race of 1998, and delving into a long look at the steroid scandal of recent years, this documentary does a good job of not only looking at the game itself, but also at the relationship between baseball and its fans. We see how baseball struggles against its own demons — greed, drug use — and consistently manages to rebound and draw its supporters back in.
My biggest criticism of the documentary lies in its extensive coverage of the steroid scandal. While hats were tipped to the likes of Ken Griffey, Jr., Cal Ripken, Jr., and Ichiro Suzuki, there were many moments throughout both DVDs that I felt like I was watching the Barry Bonds Show. We get an almost biographical look at Bonds’ background, his early years in baseball, his career as a whole, and his attitudes about the game through all of it. The focus of the second DVD primarily revolved around steroids, with Bonds right in the middle of it, of course. Meanwhile, all the teams that won World Series championships in the early 2000s received about twelve seconds of coverage each.
It’s unfortunate that such a negative chapter in baseball history has drawn so much attention. But as the documentary still reminds us, at the end of the day, it is baseball itself that keeps fans coming back. In spite of greed and scandal and steroids, baseball in itself is still a pretty great game.