Chicago’s Moonlight Graham

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I wrote this story some time ago, and it was published on the website ChicagoSideSports.com. An archived version of the site exists, but does not include this piece, so I’m adding it here. Happy Memorial Day to all.

Anyone who has seen the movie Field of Dreams knows the story of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. He played just one inning as a major leaguer, never came to bat, and retired from baseball to become a doctor in the small town of Chisholm, Minnesota. It’s all completely true, and writer W.P. Kinsella turned the story of Graham’s brief career into literary gold, and Hollywood followed suit by creating the character that Burt Lancaster so memorably played on the screen. We can all picture Lancaster as he walks off the field and asks “Win one for me one day, will you boys?” But there was a baseball career that eclipsed even Graham’s in terms of nothingness, and it belongs to Chicagoan Alexander Thomson Burr.

Burr was born in Chicago in 1893, and he attended prep school and college on the east coast. He was included on the roster of the New York Yankees at the beginning of the 1914 season. The Yankees were managed by Frank Chance, who had been a part of the famed “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” infield that the Cubs had fielded in the prior decade. Chance’s managerial moves in a game on April 21, 1914 left him with no choice but to put Burr into the outfield for the ninth inning. There was one small problem with this maneuver: Burr was actually a pitcher, not an outfielder. Like Moonlight Graham, Burr played a single half-inning in the outfield, where nothing was hit his way. And like Moonlight Graham, Burr never came up to bat, and never again played in another major league game. But unlike Moonlight Graham, Burr played a position that he was not supposed to be at. But better to play out of position than to never make it at all.

Alexander Burr’s life after baseball was also much different from Moonlight Graham’s. Burr initially returned to school, but signed up for the U.S. Air Service when fighting broke out in Europe. The Air Service was created in May of 1918, and the use of airplanes in combat was still a new idea at that time. The dangers of using airplanes came into full view on October 12, 1918 when Burr collided in mid-air with another pilot over a lake at Cazaux, France. Four and a half years after his half-inning in the big league sun, Burr died at the age of 24.

Thanks to all who sacrificed for this country.

There’s baseball in the air

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With less than two weeks left until Opening Night in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about the return of baseball. There will be new story lines every day, for the next seven months. And winter will disappear at the same time. How can anybody not love that?

Here’s my 2015 Cubs preview on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and here’s my White Sox preview for the same website. Yes, I worked both sides of Madison Street this year.

And the NCAA tournament will help get us all through the last full weekend before the season starts. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Nobody on the road, Nobody on the beach

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It’s been more than two weeks since I wrote anything to put in this space. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing, though. In fact, I wrote a trio of pieces relating to the recent death of Ernie Banks, and sent them off to websites that are willing to share my thoughts with their readers. I appreciate having places to go with the thoughts that enter into my brain from time to time.

The title for this post is the first line of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” It’s a song I’ve always liked, because it tries to come to grips with changes in life. The summer’s over, but he’s still interested in whatever girl the song was written about. Dogged determination counts for something, doesn’t it?

The summer feels out of reach for me and this blog, too. I used to sit at the computer every night, looking for new ideas to put into this medium that I hope will be around after this Boy of Summer has gone.

The posts will likely still come to me sporadically, and when I have the inclination I’ll put them down here. But it won’t be with the frequency or the intensity that it was even just a few months ago. Life will still go on, as it always has.

A bleachers retrospective

Hearing that the Cubs started tearing down the Wrigley Field bleachers today felt like the end of something for me. From the first time I sat in the bleachers back in 1987, to the last time I did so back in 2005, they were always a place where I felt good. Granted, a fair amount of this was alcohol-induced, but not all of it was. It was the place to be, if you wanted to have the full-on Wrigley experience. And I certainly did that, for the better part of my adult life.

I went there in the 1980s with the college girl who later became my wife. I celebrated opening day there at least a couple of times, and saw both Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson receive their Wrigley sendoffs there. I went there with my brother, and friends of all varieties, and even went by myself on a few occasions. I took my two young daughters the last time I was there, even though it never was a very kid-friendly place. Simply put, it was my home away from home, and the place I wanted to be whenever I had the chance to go. And now it’s gone.

Whatever comes along to take its place, it can’t be what it once was to me. And that’s probably all for the best, since everything changes and evolves over time.

Here are a few pictures of or from the bleachers:

Dad is a Cardinals fan, so of course I had to become a Cubs fan, instead

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Springsteen's Wrigley shows were amazing. Hope he comes back soon

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Thanks for the memories!

Here’s to Baseball and Sand Castles

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My kids don’t know from Peanuts, the comic strip that was a big part of my life as I was growing up. They’ve seen the Charlie Brown holiday specials and can name Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy and all the others, and that’s something, I suppose. But when I was their age, back in the 1970s and 1980s, each day brought a new strip in the local newspaper. I took it for granted back then but things change, just as they always have.

Newspapers aren’t what they used to be, and new Peanuts strips haven’t been published since early 2000, when Charles Schultz retired and passed away at essentially the same time. And into that void my own children have grown up.I feel like they’ve missed out on something, in a way.

To honor the 64th anniversary of the first Peanuts strip in 1950, I’m presenting some of my favorites, which introduced Franklin on a beach encounter with Charlie Brown in July of 1968. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April of that year led to a suggestion that perhaps an African American character could be introduced to the strip. Like much of America in the year of my birth, the comic strips were segregated, too, which is to say that white cartoonists didn’t draw African American characters. And so far as I know, there were no African American cartoonists at the time.

Schultz initially resisted the idea, saying that he didn’t want to be seen as patronizing. But the proponent of the idea–a school teacher in Los Angeles named Harriet Glickman–persisted, and Schultz eventually added Franklin to the strip.

It may have looked and felt strange for a previously all-white comic strip to introduce a new African American character in the summer of 1968. But by the time I began reading Peanuts in the early to mid-1970s, it seemed–at least to me–that Franklin had been there all along. And we can count that as progress, right? That’s what it seems like to me.

For the love of the game

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There was no better place to be on Father’s day than at a baseball field, watching my little one play. She doesn’t love the game as I do, and that’s OK. Seeing her bat and play the field is enough for me.

It feels as if the intergenerational transfer of the game–which is the only way it can really take root–is now underway. And it’s better than anything she could have bought or made for me.

The everyday game

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Today I got to meet some fans of the game I love. In everyday life, I’m not always very talkative. In truth, I’ll take writing over speaking every time. But when the subject is baseball, that’s a different story. I could talk about baseball all day long.

In the process of talking about the game today, I articulated something that I’ve never thought about too much before. What makes baseball great, in part, is that for six months a year, there are games going on every single day. Football doesn’t have that. Hockey, basketball, and every other team sport makes their fans wait for another game. But not baseball. There’s a game today, there’s a game tomorrow, there’s going to be games on (nearly) every single day until the end of October. And I love that.

Football, in particular, seems to be particularly cruel to its fans. Six days out of every week are devoted to talking about a game, analyzing a game, and doing everything except actually  playing the game. Not so with baseball. Every day is a chance to start over, to do something memorable, or to atone for something from the previous day. And it gets no better than that.