Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moonlight Graham

In difficult times like these, it's useful to step back and remember what is important in life.  In that vein, I've decided to take a moment to file a rant on a 1989 Kevin Costner movie.

Field of Dreams was a cultural and commercial success.  I saw in in the theatre, as my mom took advantage of a promotion whereby you got into the theatre for free if you brought a pillow.   My mom is good like that.

For those who haven't seen it or don't remember the details, Ray (played by Costner) and Terrance (played by James Earl Jones), go on an adventure prompted by Ray's talking corn-field.  Ray builds a baseball field in the corn-stalks on his farm and, again prompted by the talking corn, drives to Boston to take Terrance to a Red Sox game.  Did I mention that there are ghosts playing baseball on the field?  No?  Well, they are. 

Anyway, Ray finds Terrance, they go to a Sox game, and the Fenway Park scoreboard tells them to find a baseball player named Moonlight Graham, who played one game in 1922 and never got an at-bat: 

(Off topic, but this scene freaked me out when I first saw it.  Every time I looked at a scoreboard, I said a little prayer that it wouldn't show me an eerie message.  Being 10 years old is terrifying.)

So, Ray and Terrance drive to Minnesota and learn that Moonlight is not-so-much alive anymore.  This is of no matter to Ray, who promptly visits 1972 to have a chat with Moonlight (who is an elderly local doctor). 

Upon leaving Minnesota, they pick up a hitchhiker: a wide-eyed young baseball player named Moonlight Graham.  They bring him to Ray's cornfield, where famous dead professional baseballers are having a rousing game of ball.  Moonlight gets into the game, realizing his dream.  He comes up to bat and hits a sacrifice fly to center in his only plate appearance.  Immediately after, Ray's daughter chokes on a hot dog, Moonlight steps from the field, transforms back into the weathered doctor, saves Ray's daughter, then walks into the corn and disappears.  So, if you're scoring at home, Moonlight has gone from dead, to old, to young, to old, and back to dead in about an hour of screen-time. 

Now, I have no problem with any of this.  As the credits roll, Ray has saved his farm and gets to play catch with his deceased father- a rather solid ending.  The baseball scenes are authentic looking, the parts of the movie that are supposed to be funny are funny, and the actors do a great job in the movie (except maybe for Ray's wife, who is excruciating).  In fact, the movie got an Oscar nomination for best picture, and this was back before every movie got a nomination.

My issue is that they haven't addressed Moonlight's statistical deficiency.  As seen in the clip above, the scoreboard at Fenway  stated that Moonlight had one game, but no at bats.  Ray and Terrance clearly state their intention to remedy the fact that he has no at bats.  He comes to bat in the movie, and flies out to the outfield, scoring the runner from third base.  It's a sacrifice fly- get it? he sacrifices himself!- but a sacrifice fly is not counted as an official "at bat" under the official scoring rules of baseball!    This has driven me crazy since I first saw the movie. 

I've tried to reconcile this with the baseball rules.  Maybe a sacrifice fly counted as an at bat in 1922?  Nope.  Nor did it count as an at bat in 1989 (when the movie came out).  At certain points, the official rules did count this as an at bat, but those times were short-lived (prior to 1908 and between 1940-1954).  Since we're told that most of the players on the field were banned from baseball in 1919, it seems quite unlikely that they'd be playing using the rules of either era. 

The players in Ray's field were most likely not keeping any statistics outside of each team's run total, but since the characters expended so much effort to get Moonlight his one "at bat", this is a huge oversight. 

Next week I'll break down the jurisprudence of Night Court, to see if I can suck all the fun out of that too....

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