Thanks to "Field of Dreams," nearly everyone knows Archibald (Moonlight) Graham.
Just scan the Internet. There are Moonlight Graham T-shirts, Moonlight Graham hats, a Moonlight Graham Scholarship Fund and, based out of Cincinnati, a two-piece bluegrass band named, of all things, "Moonlight Graham."
Yet while Graham certainly warrants his place in baseball folklore, the man was a wizened major league veteran compared to good ol' Buddy Hancken, who died in February at age 92.
Though much has been made of Graham's all-too-brief big league career, at least he played two whole innings for the New York Giants. Hancken, on the other hand, found himself on a major league diamond for exactly half that time. His debut came on May 14, 1940, when Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, pinch ran for catcher Frank Hayes in the ninth inning of a 9-7 victory at Cleveland. Hancken, a 25-year-old Alabaman, caught the final three outs.
Career stats: 0 ABs, 0 hits, 0 runs, --- batting average.
"I got to play one inning as a catcher, make one putout, meet Connie Mack and shake hands with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb." Hancken once said. "I wasn't a very good player. But for a guy who was average, I never missed a payday from 1934 to 1990. There aren't many guys who can say that."
What truly made Graham's mystique was that after reaching the bigs, he vanished, leaving the game two years later to focus on a medical career. Hancken, on the other hand, spent seven decades in professional baseball, bounding joyfully through the dugouts and batting cages and grass fields as a player, manager, coach, scout and executive.
Though mediocre as a catcher, Hancken goes down as one of the game's elite storytellers. In the early 1980s, he was the Houston Astros' one-man speakers bureau, hopping from Rotary Club banquet to Babe Ruth League dinner to Cub Scout convention armed with an ear-to-ear grin and a bushel of tall tales. "Some of Dad's stories were true, some were embellished, some were false," says Kaaren Kline, his daughter. "But he told all of them with great happiness."
Hancken's favorite yarn dates back to 1938, when his Seattle Rainiers traveled to California for a Triple-A matchup against the Hollywood Stars. Under manager Jack Lelivelt, players could sing in the showers after a win, but were required to cleanse silently should they lose.
Following one particularly joyful triumph, Hancken and his teammates crooned away, bellowing one off-key hymn after another. Suddenly, into the shower walked Bing Crosby, Lelivelt's close friend.
"Bing just stuck his head in to say hello, but the guys pulled him inside and wouldn't let him leave until he sang with them," says Kline. "So although my dad played in the major leagues, he used to say his claim to fame with singing with Bing Crosby.
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAGE 2 TRIBUTES
Page 2 tells the stories of some of those who passed away this year.TAYLOR BRADFORD, 1986-2007
Taylor Bradford was a defensive lineman for the University of Memphis. He was also a thoughtful, intelligent brother and friend.
ABE COLEMAN, 1905-2007
Abe Coleman was 5-foot-3, 220 pounds and wrestled before a crowd of 60,000. He was one of a kind.
EDDIE FEIGNER, 1925-2007
Softball pitcher Eddie Feigner was more than a traveling sideshow: he may have been the best ever at any craft.
JOHN FERGUSON, 1938-2007
John Ferguson isn't in the Hall of Fame, but the Montreal Canadiens wouldn't have won five Stanley Cups without him.
BUDDY HANCKEN, 1914-2007
Buddy Hancken played just one inning in the major leagues, but he had a lifetime of stories to tell after spending 50 years in pro baseball.
MARQUISE HILL, 1982-2007
Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill tried to do what was right, and he had a perspective far beyond his years.
JESSE MARUNDE, 1979-2007
Jesse Marunde was one of the strongest men on the planet. Did he push himself too far?
ISAK RAIN, 1985-2007
Isak Rain was a budding star in the wrestling world, but an auto accident took his life far too soon.
BILL ROBINSON, 1943-2007
Bill Robinson enjoyed a long, productive major league career. He also knew how to take a joke.
VERN RUHLE, 1951-2007
Did he catch it or not? We can't say for certain, but either way, Vern Ruhle is a part of baseball history.