More Than Just “Moonlight”- Fayetteville’s History as a Hub of Baseball Talent
By Clayton Trutor
“We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening,” Archibald “Moonlight” Graham tells Ray Kinsella as they discuss Graham’s one-inning, no at-bat Major League Baseball career in the 1989 film version of “Field of Dreams.” Graham, as played by Burt Lancaster, tells Kinsella, as played by Kevin Costner, about standing on deck, waiting to bat for the first time in the big leagues when the final out of the game was recorded.
In the film version, Graham’s lone major league appearance takes place in 1922. In real life, the Fayetteville born-and-bred Graham made his only major league appearance on June 29, 1905 as a replacement right fielder for the New York Giants. “Field of Dreams,” based on W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel “Shoeless Joe,” made Fayetteville’s own “Moonlight” a household name. The ballplayer-turned-small-town doctor Graham, as depicted by Lancaster, stole the show in the emotional baseball fantasy film. It turns out that Graham’s Major League moment was far from the only one to arise from Fayetteville and its immediate environs. Many towns and cities across America have a few big league ballplayers they can
call their own. Conversely, the Greater Fayetteville area has nearly two dozen Major Leaguers who were either born, raised or resided here.
I’ve put together my “More than Just ‘Moonlight’” Fayetteville All- Time All-Star Team – a starting nine plus a small pitching rotation of baseball greats that demonstrates the city’s long history as a hub of baseball talent. Fayetteville’s boys of summer, both past and present, comprise a group that includes several World Series champions, All-Stars, a postseason MVP, and even a Triple Crown winner.
Despite his great fame, “Moonlight” is far from the only baseball great to hail from the Fayetteville region. Here is a “Fayetteville Nine,” an all-time city “All Star Team” that highlights the great baseball talent that has hailed from the area, both past and present.
Second Base: Cobie Vance, Oakland Athletics Organization, 2018-Present
The pride of the Pine Forest High School Trojans, Cobie Vance is currently a rising star within the A’s organization, having spent the 2019 season as the starting second baseman for the Beliot Snappers of the Class ‘A’ Midwest League. Before signing on with the A’s, Vance was one of the best infielders in Alabama Crimson Tide history, starting in all 168 games during his college career. In 2018, Vance led the Crimson Tide in hits, at-bats, runs scored, and stolen bases.
Third Base: Russ Adams, Toronto Blue Jays (2004-2009)
Born and raised in nearby Scotland County, Russ Adams spent a halfdecade as a utility infielder for the Blue Jays. Adams enjoyed a career-year in 2005 when he smacked eight home runs, drove in 63, and batted .256.
Pitcher: Jim Bibby, St. Louis Cardinals (1972-1973), Texas Rangers (1973-1975, 1984), Cleveland Indians (1975-1977), Pittsburgh Pirates (1978-1983)
Born and raised in Franklinton, Bibby is the only alum of the discontinued Fayetteville State baseball program to make it to the Major Leagues. After serving a tour in Vietnam, the right-handed Bibby began moving his way up the New York Mets farm system before being sent to St. Louis as part of an eight-man deal. After a cup of coffee with the big league Cardinals, Bibby was again on the move— this time to Arlington, Texas. With the Rangers is where Bibby first made a name for himself as a big leaguer. On July 30, 1973, Bibby threw a 13-strikeout no-hitter against the defending World Champion Oakland A’s—the first no-hit game in Rangers’ history. For the next three seasons, Bibby was the best pitcher on some bad Texas teams, leading the club in wins in ’73 and ‘74. Midway through the 1975 season, Texas traded him to Cleveland as part of a multiplayer deal for Gaylord Perry. Again, Bibby, who went 13-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 1976, was an excellent pitcher on a bad team. Bibby’s luck changed when he signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1978. Bibby was a key component in the Pirates’ 1979 “We are a Family” World Championship team, posting a 2.08 combined ERA over 17 2/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds in
the National League Championship Series and World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. In 1980, Bibby won 19 games for Pittsburgh and earned a bid to the All-Star Game. Bibby retired from baseball in 1984 with an impressive 111-101 career record and a 3.76 ERA.
Pitcher: Cal Koonce, Chicago Cubs (1962-1967), New York Mets (1967-1970), Boston Red Sox (1970-1971)
Born in Fayetteville and raised in Hope Mills, the right-handed Koonce was a relief pitcher extraordinaire during the 1960s. The long and lean hurler was both
durable and reliable for the Cubs and Mets, making at least 35 appearances on seven occasions. Koonce enjoyed his best season in 1968, posting a 2.42 ERA with 11 saves
in 55 appearances for the Mets. He earned a World Series ring as a member of the ’69 Amazing Mets but the wear-and-tear on his arm began to show that season. Koonce
retired after making just 13 appearances for the 1971 Red Sox. After his retirement, Koonce spent seven seasons as the baseball coach at his alma mater, Campbell
University (1980-1986). He died in 1993 at the age of 52.
Catcher: Aaron Robinson, New York Yankees (1943, 1945-1947), Chicago White Sox (1948) Detroit Tigers (1949-1951)
Aaron Robinson held down the Yankees’ backstop in the years between Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra’s respective residencies behind the plate. Robinson enjoyed his best seasons in the immediate aftermath of World War II, batting nearly .300 in 1946 and earning an All-Star bid in 1947 while battling it out with Berra for the starting position. Berra had more power and was a better defensive catcher, leading to Robinson’s trade to the White Sox. Born and raised in South Carolina, Robinson managed the Fayetteville Highlanders of the Carolina League in the mid- 1950s and resided in the area for many years.
Shortstop: Pep Young, Pittsburgh Pirates (1933-1940), Cincinnati Reds (1941), St. Louis Cardinals (1941, 1945)
Born in Guilford County, Pep Young got his big break in baseball in 1928 while playing for the Class ‘D’ Fayetteville Highlanders of the Eastern Carolina League, a short-lived minor
league. Young batted a team-high .307 for the Highlanders, jumpstarting his professional career. Young ended up spending the 1930s as a regular in the Pirates’ middle infield. He enjoyed his best season in 1938, smacking 36 doubles while batting .278 for Pittsburgh.