Rashad McCants, the state budget and ‘Moonlight’ Graham
Last week, UNC-Chapel Hill’s basketball player Rashad McCants began his professional career as a draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
By coincidence, at the same time, North Carolina and Minnesota were coming together in a couple of other news stories.
On the political side, both states’ legislatures got attention because neither was able to pass a state budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1. In both states, the senate and state houses of representatives had passed different budgets and could not come to an agreement.
In North Carolina, legislators reached a last minute, temporary compromise that postponed the crisis for a few weeks.
In Minnesota, the deadlock continued. State offices and facilities began to close down on Friday, July 1.
The other story that brought the two states together might interest McCants, since it dealt with another North Carolina athlete who turned pro and eventually wound up in Minnesota. There may even be a lesson here for McCants and other young people who have set their sights on defining their lives in the context of professional athletics.
This story got more attention in Minnesota that it did here in North Carolina.
Here is what happened. Up in Chisholm, Minnesota, on June 29 a group of residents chartered buses to take them to the Minnesota Twins-Kansas City Royals baseball game to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the short major league career of one of their ‘hometown’ heroes, Dr. Archibald Graham. Dr. Graham practiced medicine in Chisholm from about 1910 until his death in 1965. By his unselfish service, he earned the respect and affection of that community, just as many small town doctors do.
But Dr. Graham must have been something very special. Otherwise, forty years after his death, why would so many people pile into buses to attend a brief ceremony in his honor?
Dr. Graham’s major league baseball career was remarkable only in its brevity. He was known as ‘Moonlight’ Graham. On June 29, 1905, he played one or two innings for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Superbas ‘— later known as the Dodgers. The game ended before he got a chance to go to bat. It was his only major league appearance.
‘Moonlight’ Graham became a baseball legend as a character in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. In that movie, he finally gets a turn at bat and hits a sacrifice fly to drive in a run. When asked if it was a tragedy for his major league career to have lasted only five minutes, the movie character Doc Graham answers: ‘“Son, if I’d only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.’”
The folks in Chisholm have it right in their celebration of their hometown hero. Well, they are right up to a point. Archibald Graham’s real hometown was in North Carolina, either in Fayetteville where he was born, or in Charlotte where his father moved the family when young Archie was about 10 years old. Before playing for the New York Giants, Graham played baseball for UNC and for the old Charlotte Hornets.
Even though Archibald Graham left our state to play professional baseball and then to practice medicine in Minnesota, North Carolina owes him a big debt. When one of North Carolina’s future great leaders became ill in 1916, he went to Minnesota for several months where Dr. Graham supervised his recovery.
The patient was Dr. Archibald Graham’s younger brother, Frank Porter Graham, later president of the University of North Carolina and US Senator. In 1916 Frank Graham completed his master’s degree in history at Columbia. He had hoped to continue his graduate work or return to teach at UNC. But a summer job at the New York Public Library had damaged his eyesight. Frank Graham worried that he might become blind.
In desperation, he traveled to Minnesota, where Dr. Archibald Graham and his wife took him in, treated his eye problems, read to him so he would rest his eyes and sent him for trips in the wintertime Minnesota woods.
When the season with his brother was over, Frank Graham was recovered sufficiently in eyesight and spirits to gain admittance in the Marine Corps in 1917. When he was ‘mustered out’ in 1919, UNC offered him the new position of dean of students. Eleven years later he was named university president. Throughout his career he inspired students and faculty to a great tradition of public service.
Just how different UNC and the state of North Carolina would be without Frank Graham’s leadership is something we cannot know for sure. But no one doubts that we are different ‘— and better ‘— as a result of his leadership and his example.
If it had not been for his brother, Frank Graham might never have found his way back to UNC or North Carolina.
We share something with those folks in Chisholm, Minnesota: A debt of gratitude to Doctor Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham, and the right to celebrate with them the 100th anniversary of his brief major league career.