Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Peaches Graham: Another damn backup catcher

Today's Great Names in Baseball entry is yet another backup catcher. Of the few previous posts, two have been turn-of-the-century backup backstops: Malachi Kittridge and Boileryard Clarke. Some may claim the perceived bias is due to my affinity for catchers, as I played the position in my younger days. But these claims of bias are untrue and will be crushed the way Grand Moff Tarkin crushed those rebel scum1.

Allow me to explain my method for choosing the players featured on this blog2. I went through all players from 1900-19903 with more than 50 at-bats per season or 10 pitching appearances per season (and a few more whose names sounded promising) from Baseball-Reference's complete team and individual stats. I picked names that I found interesting and compiled them on a spreadsheet with tabs separating them by decade. When I'd finished, I put all 1,004 of the names on a single tab. I then use a random-number generator to pick a number between 1 and 1,004, and the player in that numbered slot wins the honor of being written about.

And so the random numbers selected George "Peaches" Graham, a big-league backup catcher from 1902-1911, for today's post.

While Graham, of rural Aledo, IL, debuted in the big leagues with the Cleveland Bronchos4 in 1902 and pitched a game for the Chicago Cubs in 1903, he spent most of those years with the Rock Island Islanders of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League (IIIL). Peaches raked in the IIIL; his partial stats indicate that he hit .271 and .301 in 1902 and 1903, respectively. From there, he toiled in the minor leagues until 1908 as a member of the Colorado Springs Millionaires4A (Western League) and Minneapolis Millers (American Association).

Since there is yet again no mention on the vast system of informational tubes regarding the genesis of Graham's nickname, it seems safe to assume that, while playing in Colorado Springs, George Graham ate a bucket of peaches on a roadtrip dare from teammate Bunk Congalton. This alone would have (A) nauseated most normal people, (B) turned them off to peaches forever and (C) caused severe and irreversible gastrointestinal problems. And while Graham experienced both (A) and (C), he nevertheless collected 9 hits in a four-game series against the Des Moines Prohibitionists4A. As a result, Graham ate a peach in the dugout before every game for the remainder of his career, convinced that the fruit contained something far better than the meatiest of strength tonics5.

In 1908, Graham caught on with the Boston Doves6, where he led the league in passed balls in just 75 games. The following season, his defensive troubles continued, as he committed 22 errors in 92 games behind the plate. His offense, while average, was probably not good enough to overcome his defensive shortcomings, though he did start the majority of the Doves' games in 1910 (The Doves finished last in the National League that year).

He was traded to the Cubs in 1911, and then moved on to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1912, where he finally hit his first major league home run after more than 1,100 plate appearances in the big leagues. Incidentally, this home run was also hit in Philadelphia off Rube Marquard, just as one of Home Run Baker's World Series home runs had been the year before, albeit in different Philadelphia ballparks.

Peaches Graham was done in the big leagues by mid-1912, when he returned to the minors. He finished his career in the lower leagues, playing stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Wichita Witches4A, the Des Moines Boosters (formerly the Prohibitionists) and, finally, two teams in the IIIL.

Details on his later life are difficult to find, but his son Jack Graham was born in Minneapolis in 1916, after Peaches had hung up his spikes for good. Jack would go on to have a long minor-league career as an outfielder and first baseman in several minor league systems, hitting 384 home runs in 15 minor and independent league seasons, including 48 with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League in 1948. Yet he only played two full major-league seasons in 1946 and 1949, hitting 24 home runs in his second season7.

Peaches Graham never saw his son play big-league ball. He died in Long Beach, CA, in 1939. He was cremated, his remains cast into the Pacific Ocean in a peach basket8.

1 Wait, that didn't end well, did it? Sorry, other-kind-of-nerd-besides-baseball (OKONBB) moment.

2 Please note that this is Eric's method for choosing players. Steve's method may differ.

3 There will be more names added from 1800s players, 1990-present and the Negro Leagues. The current list was designed to give me material while I finish compiling names.

4 Not a typo, and no I don't understand the spelling either. See footnote 4A.

4A Baseball mascot names were far more interesting many years ago.

5 Clearly this is all a fabrication. Congelton actually made Peaches drink two gallons of homemade peach schnapps, ironically rendering Graham blind for the duration of a series with the Prohibitionists. His blindness cleared up during a three-game set against the St. Joseph Saints the following week. Peaches was so relieved that he gave up drinking and baseball altogether and went into the murderin' business with Ossie Schrecengost.

6 The Doves, formerly the Boston Beaneaters, eventually became the Boston Braves, the Milwaukee Braves and, finally, the Atlanta Braves.

7 Read an interview with Jack Graham here.

8 OK, this is also fabricated, except the cremation part. Or is it8A?

8A If it's on the Internet, it's fact.

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