Who Were The Ghost Players Invited To Field Of Dreams?
One of the immortal lines from Field of Dreams comes from Joe Jackson. It is delivered by a suddenly, very Goodfellas-sounding, Ray Liotta:
“Ty Cobb wanted to play… But none of us could stand the sunnuvabitch when we were alive — so we told him to stick it! LOL!”
Honestly, that line planted the seed of a question that’s gnawed at me forever.
Who the hell are the other players that DID get invited to play?
Today, let’s name those ballplayers.
In order to do so, we’ll need to know our baseball history. But there are also clues about who the other players are in the movie, and we can use those clues to piece things together.
So let’s take a walk into the corn, and go the distance!
Here’s What We Know
First of all, there’s two scenes in Field Of Dreams that depict a proper game between two teams. In the background of the second game we can see many players, umpires, and even base coaches.
We know there had to be at least 18 players on that field, nine on each side. But we never see all 18 at the same time. For example, at most, you can see 15 players in the shot shown below — including Archie Graham.
That said, you can tell what teams’ jersey they’re wearing, but none of the players have names or numbers on their backs.
Thus, we know that after a certain point, we’ll be forced to make some educated guesses about players’ identities.
But let’s start chipping away at this with what we know!
The Eight Black Sox
Without even looking — we know right off the bat that eight of the players are the Black Sox, aka the Eight Men Out. They are:
- Shoeless Joe Jackson- White Sox Left Fielder. Literally taught Babe Ruth how to swing. There’s no doubt in my mind Jackson and his .356 lifetime average would’ve been a first ballot Hall Of Famer if it wasn’t for the 1919 World Series gambling scandal. Paradoxically, if Jackson had merely been a HOFer, Shoeless Joe might now be forgotten by history (and left out of The Great Gatsby and Godfather II). But instead, thanks to W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe and Field of Dreams, Jackson is now so much more. That’s because the Field of Dreams movie site became a Baseball Mecca, worthy of a pilgrimage by any baseball-nut worth his salt. It’s quite the paradox when you think about it! Yes, on one hand you could argue that Joe and the Black Sox nearly ruined baseball. But now his Ghost is like our spirit guide at baseball’s wellspring of magic waters. So on the other hand, you could also argue that if anything saves baseball today — it’s the spirit of Field of Dreams. The cosmic tumblers are open, and the universe is showing us what’s possible. That said, let’s go the distance —
- Buck Weaver- White Sox Third Baseman. Arguably the most innocent of the bunch. Writer James T Farrell said Weaver, “was on his way to becoming the greatest third baseman ever.”
- Chick Gandil- White Sox First Baseman. Arguably the most guilty of the bunch.
- Eddie Cicotte- White Sox Starting Pitcher. Probable Hall Of Famer in his own right. Cicotte was one of the best pitchers of that era and the ace of two World Series teams.
- Lefty Williams- White Sox Starting Pitcher. Thugs supposedly threatened his family in order to convince him to throw the fateful 8th game of the 1919 World Series.
- Swede Risberg- White Sox Shortstop. Most famous, in my opinion, for being writer Nelson Algren’s childhood hero. The Swede plays a main role in Algren’s beautiful book, Chicago: City On The Make. Joe Jackson allegedly said he didn’t expose the scandal because he was afraid of Risberg. Joe stated cryptically that, “the Swede was a hard guy.”
- Happy Felsch- White Sox Center Fielder. Most famous, in my opinion, for being played by Ricky Vaugh, aka Charlie Sheen, in the other Black Sox Movie of the late 80’s era — Eight Men Out. Give ‘em the heater Happy!
- Fred McMullin- White Sox Utility Player. Famous for being the least famous, most regular-guy, conspirator. Always named last in lists like these.
Ok. In addition to our eight Black Sox, we also know the identity of two additional players on that field. They are:
9. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham- New York Giants Right Fielder. Hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field in his only plate appearance, which technically means he still doesn’t have an official at-bat.
10. John Kinsella- New York Yankees Catcher. Never made it above the low Minor leagues. Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Kostner) complimented John’s catching ability just prior to saying perhaps the only six words in the English lexicon that cull tears, on cue, from otherwise stoic grown men: “Hey… Dad, wanna have a catch?”
The Three Players, Recognized By Moonlight
In addition to the ten players we just identified, Archie Graham also recognizes three additional players. They’re important.
First of all, this is where the magic of Field Of Dreams really starts coming into play for our exercise. Specifically, the three players who Archie Graham identifies didn’t all play (or even live) during the same dead ball era as the Black Sox.
Therefore, we must begin speculating about why certain players got invited by Joe Jackson.
Perhaps there’s a common trait among the invitees? A pattern perhaps? Is there some commonality about their lives or careers that can provide a clue about the identity of the remaining unknown players?
Here they are:
11. “Smokey” Joe Wood- Boston Red Sox Starting Pitcher 1908–1922.
Why he might have gotten the call up: Wood was a contemporary of the Black Sox and was said to have thrown harder than first-ballot Hall Of Famer Walter “Big Train” Johnson. One of 13 players in MLB history with over 30 wins in a season (34). Wood slipped on wet grass in 1913 and broke the thumb on his throwing hand. He was never the same. After attempting to pitch through pain, he sat out the entire 1916 and 1917 MLB seasons. Subsequently Wood returned to the MLB as a merely average position player and played a few more years. Wood lived well into old age and died at the ripe old age of 95. But clearly, that one slip changed his life forever.
12. Mel Ott- New York Giants Outfielder. “Master Melvin” played 1927-1947, hit over 511 career home runs, and was a inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1951.
Why he might have gotten the call up: Ott was small for a power hitter. At only 5'9" and 170 lbs he used a big, Harold Bainesian knee kick to generate tremendous power. That makes Ott something of a prototype to the smaller stars of modern baseball like Kirby Puckett, Jose Altuve, and Bo Bichette. Fans love an underdog. The sight of a small man out-slugging the beef-cakes will make a guy the fan-favorite every time. As such, the entire baseball world mourned when his life was cut short. Mel Ott died unexpectedly in a 1959 car crash at the age of 49.
13. Gil Hodges- Brooklyn Dodgers First Baseman. Hodges had pretty good stats, but was very very popular with both fans and teammates. He had some great years, but more ho-hum years. For all his popularity, Hodges is not a Hall of Famer.
Why he might have gotten the call up: Reading about Gil Hodges makes you think he was seriously one of the most-beloved players in sports history. Hodges was one of the Brooklyn Dodgers “Boys of Summer” and wasn’t just a fan-favorite, he was also a clubhouse favorite. Gil Hodges died of a sudden heart attack at age 47. The great Jackie Robinson was so distraught about his passing that Jackie described Hodges funeral this way: “Next to my son’s death, this is the worst day of my life.”
A Note About Jackie Robinson
It’s worth noting that Field Of Dreams director Philip Alden Robinson has subsequently gone on record stating he regrets not including any black ball players in this scene. He’s said, “If we had to do it again, that’s the first thing I would change in the movie.”
Perhaps his regret is more sour because of how close he was to including Jackie Robinson when he bent every cosmic rule to include Gil Hodges? Which says nothing of a Josh Gibson who hit 1,000 career home runs, but none in the MLB. That said —let’s remember that a young Terrance Mann (played by James Earl Jones) was likely scheduled to take the field the next day after getting the invite from Joe.
To summarize, Ott and Hodges were fan-favorites who died unexpectedly not long after their careers ended. To put that into perspective, think about what a shock it was when Kobe Bryant died. On the other hand, Wood suffered a freak accident that derailed a very bright career.
When combined with the Black Sox, Kinsella, and Graham, have we established any kind of common theme or pattern among these players? Do we have any better understanding that can illuminate the potential identities of the remaining ball players?
Certainly we can figure this out, right? Let’s keep digging.
That Leaves Another Twelve Players
OK, first of all we get a good look at a lot of ballplayers. Right after Doc Graham saves little Karen Kinsella’s life, Graham walks off into the corn through a group of players.
Based on the various camera angles used in the scene, here’s the uniforms I see — and first blush guesses at each player’s identities. Further down, I explain my reasoning:
- Another New York Giant (not Christy Mathewson)
- One Cincinnati Red (99% Hal Chase)
- Two St. Louis Browns (100% Jack O’Connor, and Joe Gideon)
- Two more New York Yankees (probably Babe Ruth. And Lou Gehrig. But maybe Mickey Mantle)
- Three St. Louis Cardinals. (Need help! But maybe Rogers Hornsby)
- Three Philadelphia A’s. (Need help! But not Eddie Collins)
Let’s Start With The Easy One — NOT Christy Mathewson
First up, logic tells us that the one New York Giant must be Mel Ott, right? Archie Graham told us he saw Mel Ott right after exiting Ray Kinsella’s hippy bus.
That said, the actor who wears the other Giants uniform sure does look a lot like a tall, skinny, Christy Mathewson to me. Also, Mathewson was a first ballot Hall of Famer, who died young of tuberculosis after getting gassed while serving in World War One. In other words, his talent and premature death makes him seem like a good fit for being a ghost player. BUT…
In October 1919, Mathewson was actually working with the Cincinnati reporters who eventually broke the story of the Black Sox scandal. Basically, Matty ratted out Shoeless Joe.
Yep— there’s Joe invited Matty. So Mel Ott it is!
The Black Prince of Baseball — Hal Chase
Okay, the Cincinnati Red is also an easy one. You may think it’s odd that a member of the Reds would be invited to Field of Dreams. After all, that’s who the Black Sox lost to in 1919.
However, one man makes perfect sense. Hal Chase, aka “The Black Prince of Baseball.”
13. Hal Chase, won the 1916 batting title when he hit .339. Babe Ruth called him, “the best first baseman he ever saw.” Chase was known to gamble on games, and offer bribes to players to throw games he’d bet on. Chase was traded to the White Sox, but told Charles Comiskey to stick it!
Instead of joining the Sox, Chase jumped to the “third major league” upstart Federal League. After the Federal League folded, Chase made his way back to the National League. In 1918, Reds manager Christy Matthewson suspended him for “indifferent play.”
Chase was later found to have helped fix the 1919 series, and was thrown out of baseball. In other words, Hal Chase was a friend of ours.
Then again… maybe that’s supposed to be the future ghost of Pete Rose?
The Enemy of My Enemy is a Friend — Jack O’Connor
The two St. Louis Browns are easy to identify. The first is Jack O’Connor. As a coach for the Browns, in the last game of 1910, O’Connor ordered his third baseman to play in left field. That allowed Nap Lajoie to bunt for base hits in every at-bat — helping LaJoie beat that sunnuvabitch Ty Cobb in the 1910 hitting title.
14. Jack O’Connor was thrown out of baseball for this treacherous act of cheating. But surely it punched his ticket to Field of Dreams.
The Ninth Man Out — Joe Gedeon
The other St. Louis Browns player is even easier to identify. He is Joe Gedeon, aka, “The Ninth Man Out.” Gideon was kicked out of baseball in his prime based on his close proximity to the Black Sox, and active wagering on the 1919 World Series. He was a friend of The Swede, McMullin, and Hal Chase. Gedeon even traveled with the team during the 1919 Series. And ultimately, he testified to the Grand Jury that he bet on the series.
15. Joe Gedeon, ninth man out, but probably the first call from Shoeless Joe.
The Two Yankees — Ruth and Gehrig
There are two players wearing New York Yankee uniforms. Players numbers 16 and 17 have to be Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
First of all, Ray Kinsella mentions at the beginning of the movie, “Instead of Mother Goose, I was put to bed to stories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson.”
That said, Babe Ruth, the GOAT, is also on record as having said, “I copied Jackson’s style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He’s the guy who made me a hitter.”
Joe surely invited Ruth back to talk hitting, eat a few hot dogs, and launch a few taters out into the cornfield.
You’d think Lou Gehrig had played enough baseball after his 2,130 consecutive games streak. But clearly he loved to play. So perhaps his premature death due to ALS (aka, Lou Gehrig’s disease) left him with the desire to play one more time.
That said, it’s worth noting there’s also a chance the second Yankee is Mickey Mantle. In 1983, Mantle was banned by baseball for working at an Atlantic City casino as a greeter and autograph-signer. MLB’s then-commissioner deemed casino-life was bad for baseball’s image. But Mantle was reinstated in 1985.
And as of 2019, (another pardoxical twist in the Black Sox story), gambling on baseball is now LEGAL and encouraged inside MLB stadiums.
So, we’ve identified seventeen ballplayers. Not bad. But that still leaves us with three A’s, and three Cardinals to identify …
I’ll continue my research and investigate a few ideas I have. For example, was one of the A’s Rogers Hornsby who has the second highest batting average in history? Maybe one of the other A’s is the future ghost of Jose Canseco, the juice-spilling truth-shilling pariah of the Steroid Era?
But in the meantime, let me know who you think those remaining six ghost players are?
Til then — I’ll see you in Iowa the next time the White Sox play a home game at the Field of Dreams. Here’s hoping Joe walks out of the corn.
May we all be dipped in magic waters.
Brian Deines - Medium
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