If you've ever seen the movie Field of Dreams you're probably familiar with the story of Moonlight Graham. Back in June of 1905, legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw sent in recent call-up Archibald "Moonlight" Graham to play right field in the bottom of the eight inning against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The ball was never hit to him that inning and in the top of ninth Graham was on deck when the third out was made. He returned to right field for the bottom of the inning where he again had no balls hit his way. That was the entirety of his major league career. He was sent back to the minor leagues shortly thereafter where he toiled for another three years, but never returned to the big show. One game played, no turns at bat, no fielding chances. So close, yet so far.
After his playing days, Graham had a long and successful career as a doctor in Minnesota. To this day there is still a scholarship fund in his name to assist students from one of the many schools he worked at over his 50 year career in medicine. He never got to live the dream of making an impact on a major league baseball game but he certainly had a positive impact on many hundreds or even thousands of people in his lifetime. As Burt Lancaster's delightfully cheesy version of Graham says in Field of Dreams, even though he regretted never getting a plate appearance, he would have regretted not becoming a doctor even more.
Nine years later the New York Yankees had a Moonlight Graham of their own. Manager Frank Chance decided to keep two rookie pitchers on his roster to start the 1914 season, moreso to be around and get accustomed to the big leagues than to actually contribute on the field. One of those pitchers was Alexander Thomson Burr, known to many as Tom, a promising young prospect with his heart set on attending Williams College. On April 21 the Yankees headed into the top of the tenth inning against the Washington Senators with no position players left on the bench to take the field. Chance was forced to send Burr, a superb all-around athlete, out to play center field where no batted ball came near him. The Yankees then scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning before his spot in the order came up. That would be his only major league appearance and gave him an entry identical to Graham's in the record books. Never quite living out the dream.
In May, Burr was sent to the minor leagues where he bounced around for a few months and quit pro baseball for good to attend Williams after the season. Three years later, with the United States entering the first World War, Burr decided to enlist in the military rather than graduate from college. He was stationed in France as a pilot and served there for about a year before colliding with a fellow pilot in October of 1918. Sadly, his life ended in the ensuing crash at just 24 years old and one month shy of the treaty that would end the war. Unlike Moonlight Graham, there would be no happy ending for Burr. No lifetime's body of work to look back on and absolve himself of any regrets.
Still, Burr may have saved many hundreds or even thousands of lives by selflessly volunteering to serve his country. He deserves to be celebrated and admired just as Moonlight Graham has been in the many years after his ill-fated major league appearance. So, Yankees fans, while you enjoy cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and some good old fashioned American fun this Memorial Day weekend, take a minute and tip your cap to Tom Burr, a forgotten Yankee who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Big thanks to the SABR website for background information used in this article.