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McCollum's Column: UCA, Mayo Clinic and 'Moonlight Graham. The connection

Posted: July 5, 2014 - 6:14pm

In conjunction with Major League Baseball’s All-Star game in Minneapolis, Minn., this week, “Moonlight” will get further illumination at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Tuesday and Wednesday, a premiere documentary on the life of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Dr. Robert Reising of Conway, a retired University of Central Arkansas professor.

Reising (a former baseball coach at Duke, Furman and South Carolina), along with journalist Brett Friedland, authored the impeccably researched and detailed book, “Chasing Moonlight, The True Story of ‘Field of Dreams.’”

Reising, with funding from UCA, made a trip to Minnesota during the summer of 2011 to help with further research and production of the documentary, “The Real Moonlight Graham: A life Well-Lived.” The production, narrated by Vin Scully, will be presented by the Mayo Clinic History of Medicine Society.

The daughter of baseball legend Satchel Paige was among the contributors toward UCA Graham Scholarship that will be formally announced at the event. The scholarship will be awarded to a UCA healthcare professional in “honor of the competent, committed and compassionate medical doctor and researcher.”

“Moonlight” Graham’s baseball career was over in the twinkling of a star, but his contributions to medicine and society brought rays of hope to an obscure Minnesota community and shed light for decadees on research into children’s healthcare.

A native of North Carolina, Graham became an iconic figure for his two-inning Major League baseball career at midseason in 1905, waiting in the on-deck circle without an at-bat, with the New York Giants. With creative license, that was downsized to a half-inning and five minutes at the end of the season by author W.P. Kinsella in the novel “Shoeless Joe.” That shortened career became a major storyline in the classic movie “Field of Dreams.”

According to Reising’s book, Graham, who likely acquired his nicknamed for his moonlighting as a medical student while playing baseball in the minor leagues, was a very good ballplayer whose love of the game was trumped by his passion for medicine and helping people, especially children.

He batted .335 and won the batting title in the New York State League in 1906 for Scranton. He might have had a good Major League career had it not been for his love of medicine, fate and a personality and cultural conflict with legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw. Graham’s roots were in the Confederacy while McGraw was a son of a Union soldier and Civil War animosities were still prevalent in those days.

Graham, with a degree from Johns Hopkins, could have also been a highly successful and well-paid doctor in a major metropolis had he not headed for north by northwest for cleaner air because of nagging respiratory problems. He ended up at Chisholm, Minn., a small, obscure and decaying mining and lumber town that was literally at the end of the line for the Northern Railroad.

He became one of those people who become so deeply imbedded in the fabric of a community that the person and the town were almost inseparable for decades.

An eye, ear and throat specialist, Graham became the prototype family doctor, for decades helping Chisholm survive and prosper despite epidemics of typhoid, polio, diptheria and flu. He served as the official doctor and unofficial truant officer at the local high school, both healing and mentoring children. He gave them candy, money, advice, clothing, played ball with them and even arranged and paid for a prom date for one.

He was described by many in Chisholm as the most kind, most generous and most caring person they had ever known.

As doctor for the high school athletic teams, he was a pioneer in sports medicine, constantly stressing hydration and having such innovative items such as orange slices available for athletes.

His greatest achievement may have been his 15-year research, involving 3,580 children ages 5-16, on the effects of high blood pressure in children — until then only thought to affect adults. His determinations were staples in medical textbooks for decades and are still on file at the Mayo Clinic.

Graham died in 1965. Although he’s cemented into the history of Chisholm, he is buried in Rochester. Folks are said to constantly adorn his grave with candy, coins and baseballs so he would always have something in his pockets to give children.

His story is endearing and enduring. “Half the communities in North America have a Doc Graham,” said Kinsella, whose fascination with the man and his research about his mysterious baseball stat line birthed the legend.

In one of the climactic scenes in “Field of Dreams,” Graham, young again and in the middle of a baseball game, sees a child fall from the bleachers and begin choking. He rushes to her aid and saves her. “But in doing so, he realizes that he has turned back into an old man, forfeiting his opportunity to continue playing. Again, just as in reality, medicine triumphs over baseball,” Reising relates in his book.

The book continues, “Though his Major League career was only a blink of an eye, he (Graham) has become a symbol for qualities Americans hold dear — dedication, selfless sacrifice and ultimately, the notion that with perseverance and hard work, all dreams are possible.”

In “Field of Dreams,” a child talks about the tragedy of Graham having only a five-minute Major League career with nary an at-bat. “Son,” said his character played by Burt Lancaster. “If I had only been a doctor for five minutes, that would have been a tragedy.”

According to Chisholm newspaper publisher Veda Ponikvar, from 1912 to the mid-1990s, the small town produced an average of one medical doctor per year, “many, if not most, influenced by their now-famous role model.”

There’s a stat.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

 

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reader 07/06/14 - 09:20 am
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Excellent read David

Such a great tribute to a wonderful and compassionate man. It tends to make us think of our life actions and deeds.

Elmer Fudd
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Elmer Fudd 07/06/14 - 11:20 am
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i for a change agree with you. Sounds like a great man.

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