Field of Dreams

The Men Who Inspired the Movies: Baseball’s Hidden Stories

There are countless movies based on true stories and baseball movies are no exception. Some of the more notable films that follow this trend are Eight Men Out, which is based on the 1919 White Sox, and A League of Their Own, which is based on the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.

There are notable characters in every baseball film that many do not realize were actually based on real people. For all of the baseball lovers out there, here is a list of the real life stories that inspired such memorable characters.

1.) Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams – based on Moonlight Graham

In the iconic Field of Dreams film, Terrance Mann based a character in one of his books on John Kinsella. In reality, the film based the character Moonlight Graham on Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.

The real life Graham was born on November 12, 1877 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Much like the film’s portrayal, Graham really did only play in one MLB game and never got the chance to bat. The date was June 18, 1905 and he was a member of John McGraw’s New York Giants.

In the eighth inning, Graham was put in right field for George Browne. In the top of the ninth, the Brooklyn Dodgers retired the side in order. Graham would have been the fourth batter of the inning.

Soon after his MLB debut, Graham was sent back down to the minors. He performed rather well with a .336 batting average in 124 games, but he would never be called up to big leagues again. He retired from baseball in 1908.

Much like his film character, the real Graham became a doctor and practiced medicine in MN for 50 years. He was known as a very generous man in the community and set up a donation box for used glasses which he would then fix for needy children at no cost.

2.) Crash Davis in Bull Durham – based on Crash Davis

Bull DurhamThe only similarity the fictional and real Crash Davis have are their names. Director Ron Shelton found the name randomly and thought it was the perfect fit for his newly developed character.

In the film, catcher Crash Davis is on the Durham Bulls’ roster for one purpose only: to tame the pitching phenomenon Nike LaLoosh. The plot unfolds when both teammates become involved with a baseball groupie.

The real Davis grew up in Gastonia, NC and played second base at Duke University. Once he graduated college, he joined the Philadelphia Athletics and appeared in 148 games from 1940 to 1942. After he fought in the Navy in World War II, Davis attempted to make a comeback but by 1952, he had retired from baseball. 

Davis could not let go of baseball entirely and thus, he coached for American Legion and high school teams.

3.) Roy Hobbs in the The Natural – based on Eddie Waitkus

Roy Hobbs was destined to be the greatest hitter of all time, that was until he was shot by a crazed fan before his career could really take off. 

The story for The Natural was loosely based on the story of Eddie Waitkus, who played professional baseball for 11 years, was named to two All-Star teams, and retired with a career batting average of .285.

On June 14, 1949, Waitkus was in Chicago to play a series against his former team, the Chicago Cubs. Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a 19-year-old typist, paid the bellhop of the Edgewater Beach Hotel a $5 tip, which would be the equivalent of $50 today, to deliver a note to Waitkus, who was a guest at the hotel.

The Natural“I used to go to all the ballgames just to watch him. We used to wait for them to come out of the clubhouse after the game, and all the time I was watching him, I was building in my mind the idea of killing him. As time went on, I just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy. I knew I would never get to know him in a normal way, so I kept thinking, I will never get him, and if I can’t have him, nobody else can. Then I decided I would kill him. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would kill him,” Steinhagen wrote in a court-ordered autobiography.

Steinhagen wrote to Waitkus that although the two had never met, she needed to see him. Once Waitkus arrived at Steinhagen’s room, she pulled out a .22 caliber rifle and shot him on the right side of his torso.

Much like the film, Steinhagen planned to commit suicide after she killed Waitkus, however, she did not have the courage to carry-out the second part of her plan and called the hotel operator to say she had shot a man who was in desperate need of medical attention. 

Less than three weeks after the Waitkus shooting, a judge declared Steinhagen insane and sentenced her to a psychiatric hospital for three years. Waitkus, who survived the shooting, played baseball for six more seasons and even played in the 1950 World Series.

“The only resentment he had was it cost him the 1949 season, and he’d been playing really well. He’d survived three years in the jungles of the Philippines with barely a scratch, and he comes back here and this ‘crazy honey with a gun,’ as he used to say, takes him out,” Waitkus’ son once said.

So the next time you decide to watch any of these classic baseball films, remember the men who served as models for each main character.