The other day, Ernie Accorsi, most recently the general manager of the football Giants, told me how he had met Moonlight Graham – the legendary figure in Field of Dreams – and then filed it away in a back drawer of his memory.
Accorsi and I have known each other since Novcmber of 1963 when we were kids just starting out. We met in the press box at a Packers-Colts game in Baltimore. He was fresh out of Wake Forest, was working for the Charlotte News, an afternoon paper, now defunct, and I was working for Newsday.
Reporters remember a zillion details like that. But Ernie forgot how in July of 1963 he interviewed an old baseball player, Dr. Archie Graham, who had played for the 1902 Charlotte Hornets. That team was so good that the entire league disbanded.
Graham later played right field for two innings for the New York Giants in 1905 but soon broke his leg, and never played another major-league game. He went on to become a physician in Minnesota.
In the summer of 1963, the 82-year-old doctor was visiting Charlotte, and Accorsi wrote a nice feature on him. Ernie’s proud mother in Hershey, Pa., had a mail subscription to the paper and placed his article in a scrapbook.
By 1989, Accorsi was an executive with the Cleveland Browns. Dick Stockton, the broadcaster and a friend, told him he had to go see a movie called Field of Dreams, which Accorsi did. But amidst all the mythology about an old minor-league legend named Moonlight Graham, returning to a corn-field ball park in Iowa, Accorsi never flashed that he had met an old ball player named Graham whose major-league dreams ended abruptly.
In 1993, Accorsi was home in Hershey, going through the scrapbook his mother had maintained, looking for something else. He saw the article and realized he had met the man who was portrayed by Burt Lancaster (in his last movie role) 30 years earlier.
“Of course, he wasn’t known as Moonlight when I met him,” Ernie says. He likes to think he would have remembered a nickname like that if it had come up.
Suddenly it all came back – how Archie Graham sat in the dugout near John McGraw, the manager of the Giants, for the rest of the 1905 season, while his leg healed. Accorsi had watched a movie he loved, and never felt the personal connection to the old player.
“It’s not about old age,” Accorsi told me the other day. He was middle-aged when he blanked on meeting an old player named Graham.
“I’ve seen 1,000 football games,” said Accorsi, who still considers himself a sports historian at heart. “I had seen other games before, but that game in Baltimore was the first pro game I had ever covered.”
We both recall, as if it were yesterday, how two young reporters, going solo for our papers, agreed to share locker-room quotes. He went to interview Don Shula of Baltimore and I went over to the Green Bay side.
“And that was how I missed my one chance to interview Vince Lombardi,” Ernie recalled, with his sharp reporter’s memory.