Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Moonlight Graham Award

A few weeks ago a player joined the Bulls for one day and then left. That brought to my mind the old time ballplayer Archie “Moonlight” Graham, who had a notably brief appearance in the major leagues back in 1905. I then had the thought that we ought to find a way to recognize those players who only visit the Bulls, some of whom disappear and some of whom go on to great things. Could be fun and would challenge our ability to dig through baseball history.

We are, therefore, establishing the:

Watching Durham Bulls Baseball Moonlight Graham Award

To be awarded to the player(s) with the shortest time in a Durham Bulls uniform in a given season.

The award is named after North Carolinian Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Archie Graham achieved lasting fame in W. P. Kinsella’s brilliant 1982 book, Shoeless Joe, later made into the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. In the book the narrator, following the cryptic admonition, “Ease his pain,” kidnaps reclusive author J.D. Salinger (in the movie it’s an equally reclusive fictional author played by James Earl Jones) and takes him to a Red Sox - Twins game. While watching the game they see on the scoreboard a line from The Baseball Encyclopedia describing the career of Moonlight Graham, and hear a new admonition, “Go the distance.”

The message refers to Graham who only had one appearance on the field with the New York Giants and never got to the plate. In the film, Costner and Jones then trek off to Minnesota for encounters with Graham as an elderly ghost (played by Burt Lancaster) and a young ghost (played by Frank Whaley).

Here’s the twist: There really was a Moonlight Graham (you can look it up). He was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1877. He really did make just one appearance in the majors, with the Giants on June 29, 1905, and did not get an at bat — a major plot point in the novel and movie. For those deeply into North Carolina trivia, we can also note that he was a student at the University of North Carolina and that his brother was Frank Porter Graham, President of the University and U.S. Senator from North Carolina. The real Moonlight Graham did go on to be a doctor and practiced in Chisolm, Minnesota until his death in 1965.

Preliminary criteria for the Moonlight Graham Award:

Position player:
  • Cannot be on a major league rehab assignment.
  • Must be spotted in a Durham Bulls uniform.
  • Tie-breaker: Number of plate appearances vs. number of games.

  • Must be a legitimate pitcher, not a position player out there just to finish a game because the bullpen’s empty. (Not sure about this. Comments?)
  • Not on rehab assignment.

Authority (until we find a better one)

Current candidates for 2005 (we’ll work our way into 2009 eventually):

Position player:

  • Chris Singleton, an outfielder, was in one game, had three at bats and one hit. He had two opportunities in the outfield and made both outs. It is possible he was here on a rehab assignment since he was dropped by the then Devil Rays in July of 2005. He had a subsequent broadcast career with the Chicago White Sox and ESPN. Clearly a solid candidate for the 2005 Moonlight Graham Award.
  • Scott Neuberger, an outfielder, was in 3 games, with 6 at bats and two hits, 1 double, 1 RBI, 3 strike outs. He never made it into the majors. A better candidate if it turns out that Singleton was here on rehab.


Two position players made brief appearances as pitchers. You can see why I don’t consider them eligible for the award.

  • A catcher, Tim Laker, pitched 1/3 inning, faced 3 batters, with a walk, wild pitch, hit and 1 run scored. His ERA for the year was 27.00.
  • Jim Deardorff, an infielder, pitched one inning, faced five batters, one strikeout, 2 hits, no runs, ERA of 0.00.
  • But probably the best candidate for the pitcher’s award is an actual pitcher who only pitched one game as a starter, 6 innings, faced 29 batters, 9 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts, 1 wild pitch, 4 runs, and a win. Obscure guy named James Shields. If anyone has any information about what happened to him, let me know.
Note for those into Moonlight Graham and Shoeless Joe/Field of Dreams trivia: It’s possible that Graham played against Shoeless Joe! See here for the assertion. Really cool if that did happen. Talk about fantasy baseball!


  1. Great idea! I like Scott Neuberger for the 05 award. Chris Singleton's post-playing profile doesn't seem to fit with the likes of Moonlight Graham. If you want to know what Singleton's doing these days you just click on the TV. He's clearly made a graceful transition to the other side of the diamond. Scott Neuberger? Seriously, with that name he sounds like a doctor in Minnesota who came close but never got a shot.

  2. As it happens, I recently wrote a mini-review of a book about Moonlight Graham ("Chasing Moonlight"). Turns out he was a total loon (as befits a Minnesotan, I suppose -- even a transplanted Minnesotan). The story that he played against Shoeless is probably apocryphal. But it will be fun to see who gets the award for the Bulls this year.

  3. Didn't know about the book. Will have to take a look at it.
    Leaning towards Neuberger as well. I'm hoping someone in Bulls organization can chase down whether or not Singleton was here on rehab. I could always change the criteria, of course.
    Hoping to have fun with this.
    Matt Hall was the leading candidate for 2009, but looks like he'll be around for a while.

  4. Thanks for mentioning my book, Adam. ... If anyone is interested in learning more about Moonlight Graham, check out "Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dreams' Doc Graham." You can find it on or at Hopefully, I'll see all of you out at a Bulls game this summer!

    Brett Friedlander, author

  5. Brett--good to hear from you. Reminds me to announce the 2005 winner and go on to 2006. Coming soon!