SABR

Skinny Graham

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Of the two Skinny Grahams who played major league ball, at more or less the same time, it’s Arthur William Graham of Somerville, Massachusetts (born there on August 12, 1909) who is the subject of this biography, not the pitcher from Alabama, Kyle Graham.

Arthur Graham’s father was the original “Skinny” and a contemporary of future Hall of Famer Pie Traynor on the Somerville, Massachusetts Base Ball Club. A 1934 Boston newspaper article by Ray Finnegan referred to Arthur Junior as “Young Skinny”, while Gene Mack’s accompanying cartoon asserted that Skinny Senior was “the best known semipro pitcher in the state for many years.” Finnegan wrote, “Graham is the name and one of his biggest claims to fame is that he once was mascot for the old Somerville B.B.C.’s when Pie Traynor was playing shortstop for the club at Trum Field 15 years ago.” Traynor’s first year in pro ball was 1920.  At the time of the article, Traynor was the Pirates manager and star third baseman.

An interview in October 2009 with Arthur Graham III (Art Graham) provided a good deal of family background. “I have a picture here of [Somerville’s] Trum Field with the wooden backstop and all that. My father and my grandfather are in the same picture and I was told that in that particular game, my grandfather struck my father out two or three times. I would have to say my father was in his 20s and my grandfather was in his 40s or early 50s. He was a pitcher. Right-handed pitcher. He was a painter. He worked in the Navy Yard during the war, and I guess they had their own little painting business. My father himself did that once he got through baseball.” [Interview with Art Graham on October 20, 2009]  The family lived across the street from Trum Field, which is still a baseball park in 2009. Art recalls being a kid and passing the hat at games, which sometimes attracted as many as four or five thousand people. “We’d pass the hat and I’d be emptying that into buckets because they were so full, the hats would fill up.”  

The 1920 Census shows Arthur Graham, 30, and his wife Catherine, 30, as Massachusetts natives with children Arthur Jr. (11), George (7), and Lillian (1 ½), living with Catherine’s mother Sarah. Arthur Sr.’s father was born in Pennsylvania and his mother born in Ireland. Catherine’s parents were both Sullivans born in Ireland. Art III recalled a Nova Scotia connection on his father’s side, and said that the family visited Nova Scotia on holidays. Arthur Sr.’s death certificate, however, lists his widow as Genevieve Sullivan, not Catherine. George Graham never went out for baseball.

Arthur William Graham, Jr. from this point will be the only Skinny under discussion. He played town ball, and also played under coach Charlie Dickerman at Somerville High School, where he was captain of the 1929 team, and was selected as the center fielder in the Boston Globe’s All-Scholastic team both in 1928 and 1929. In the summer of 1929, he joined the Somerville Progressives semipro team, playing on the same team with his father.

Skinny’s schooling continued with a year at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts and then at Bridgton Academy in Maine. Both schools were known for their baseball programs and offered the Grahams athletic scholarships. It was a way of picking up more baseball experience (and some further education) and biding time while showcasing for interested scouts. But it was back in Greater Boston that he finally caught notice. Starting in 1930, Graham played both for Ralph Wheeler’s Malden City Club team and also in the Boston Twi League for Eddie Carr’s St. John team. “It was here that the scouts first began to camp on his trail,” write Ray Finnegan. “Joe Ford of Quincy recommended him to the Yankees and they signed him. He was sent to the Cumberland, MD team of the Middle Atlantic League. When this circuit went to the bow wows, young Skinny began to look around for employment. He had decided to be a ball player and it wouldn’t do to loaf.” [Ray Finnegan article in unnamed newspaper, May 13, 1934]

He next joined the 1933 Woonsocket team of the New England League, primarily playing center field. On August 10, newspapers reported that Graham, a free agent, had signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The New York Times report said he weighed 175 pounds and had hit .409 in the New England League. The Woonsocket team was a peripatetic one, starting the season in Attleboro, relocating to Lawrence on May 26, and then to Woonsocket only on July 18, but the league disbanded after the playoffs elimination round due to prolonged weather delays and the refusal of the New Bedford players to take part. [Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, third edition, p. 334] His .409 wasn’t enough to win Graham the league batting crown; Edward Baker of New Bedford hit .413. At 175 pounds, standing 5-foot-seven, it’s hard to envision young Graham as skinny, but as we have seen, the name followed from his father. Today’s baseball records show him with a major-league playing weight of 162 pounds.

After the league fell apart, Woonsocket let him go and the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him. “But,” wrote Finnegan, “it seems that the Red Sox had a working agreement with Woonsocket, and their permission was not obtained when Graham was made a free agent. The protest went to Commissioner Landis and he ruled in favor of the Red Sox. He was claimed by Boston and sent to the Reading farm under Nemo Leibold. He did so well there last year that he was selected to go South with the Yawkeys this past winter. However, the Sox were not building with new players but wanted tried and true veterans. So Skinny was shipped out again. But they are sure the Somerville lad will be up there when the gong rings next Spring.” [Ray Finnegan article in unnamed newspaper, May 13, 1934]

Another Boston-based paper had been monitoring Graham’s play, and in early spring training 1934 declared, “Arthur Graham, of Somerville, last season with Woonsocket, needs more experience before he can hope to battle for a major-league job.” [Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1934] The team saw him as “one year away” from the big leagues. They may well have been right. He hit .331 for the Reading Red Sox, with 18 homers, 15 triples, and 16 doubles.

The Red Sox got a chance to see Graham play in person, and even saw him slam a home run against them during an August 6 exhibition game in Reading. It was a long home run, estimated at 450 feet, hit over the center-field wall. [Courant, February 4, 1935] A bit earlier in that summer of 1934, Ray Finnegan had written a July 13 feature entitled “The Somerville Express”. The accompanying Gene Mack cartoon depicted another time in Reading when a long Graham drive hit the top of a telephone pole in front of the clubhouse in the outfield, sparing the Hazelton pitcher from being charged with a home run – and costing Graham the suit of clothes he would have won from a local merchant if the ball had cleared the fence. It was a game in which he’d already hit two singles and two triples.

In the same July article, Finnegan said that “Graham is the current rage in the New York-Penn League because of his classy outfield playing.” He’d been hitting over .390 when a leg injury forced him to the bench for a while and prevented him from playing in the league’s All-Star game.

Graham earned a callup to Boston and debuted in the September 14 ballgame, batting cleanup against Chicago’s Milt Gaston. The game was a pitcher’s duel, and Boston’s Wes Ferrell came out on the short side of the score, after walking three men in the first inning, one of which forced in the only run of the game. Gaston only allowed six hits, but two of them were by Graham, a single and a triple. He drove in his first two major-league runs in the second game in the September 16 twinbill against the White Sox, alas a 12-10 loss.

It was a nice way to break in, though by season’s end Graham had accumulated 54 plate appearances in 13 games and was hitting .234 with three RBIs. In early December, looking to 1935, brand new Red Sox manager Joe Cronin let it be known that he felt he had a surfeit of outfielders. “As I see our outfield,” he said, “all I have to do is take my pick of Reynolds, Johnson, Solters, Porter, Cooke, Almada, and Graham. I don’t think we need any more fly-chasers. In fact, I think we can make one or more good trades with our surplus.” [Hartford Courant, December 8, 1934]

Graham wasn’t moved, though, and trained with the big-league team the following spring, breaking into the headlines when his seventh-inning grand slam in Miami won the March 14 exhibition game against the Giants, 7-5.  The AP’s April 1 Red Sox roundup predicted he’d be sent out for more experience, but dubbed him “a real outfield ‘find’”. A week later, the Courant’s sports editor Albert W. Keane said Graham “has shown well in the outfield but there’s nothing else in the Yawkey entourage which catches the eye of the veteran observer.” Keane’s remarks were confined to the crop of Red Sox rookie prospects. Graham had some speed. The Somerville sports cartoonist Misakian drew a cartoon characterizing him as a chip off the old block, declaring, “They can’t hit ‘em where they ain’t because Skinny is everywhere – his speed is one of his biggest assets to win a regular berth on Yawkey’s red hot Red Sox.” He added, “He is an exceptionally long hitter for a little fellow.” [Undated original cartoon art from the collection of Art Graham]

Graham played for three teams in 1935 – the Single A Elmira Pioneers (.340 in 29 games with one homer) and the Syracuse Chiefs in Double A (.194 with three homers in 51 games), but had another opportunity to play in Boston as well, getting into eight games starting on September 11. He acquitted himself well in limited action, hitting for an even .300 in 10 at-bats.

In January 1936, Cronin again saw Graham as one of his outfield possibilities, with Cramer, Manush, Almada, and Cooke. Another Gene Mack cartoon depicted Graham as “The Somerville Express” and said that he had turned up in Sarasota for spring training with a new “choke-up” batting grip. [Cartoon from collection of Art Graham. Incidentally, Graham was never close to skinny in any of the cartoons which depicted him.] On March 14, Cronin included Graham with Cramer and Almada as “three of the best fielders in baseball” while at the same time presciently allowing “they probably won’t work together this season.” [Christian Science Monitor, March 14, 1936] Cramer had center field locked down, but it was Almada and Graham contending for the right-field slot. “All three cover miles of ground,” Cronin said. The Monitor’s Ed Rumill saw Almada as having the inside track, with Cooke still a possibility as well.

Playing against the Dodgers in Clearwater on March 30, 1936, Graham tripled and drove in a run, sharing center-field duties with Doc Cramer. He committed an error, though, and was shipped to Little Rock the next day on option, as the Red Sox needed to cut down for regular season play. For the next three years (1936 through 1938), Graham played in the Southern Association for the Little Rock Travelers. He got in a lot of work, but saw both his batting average and slugging percentage decline – his average from .326 to .307 to .243. Sometime in March 1939, Graham was traded by the Travelers to the International League’s Baltimore Orioles for Hank Harris and outfielder Earl Bolyard. [Atlanta Constitution, April 2, 1939]

Graham rebounded his first year with Baltimore, hitting 12 homers with a .308 average. In 1940, he hit 15 homers to 1939’s even dozen, but fell off in doubles, triples, and saw his batting average sink to .257.  His last act for the Orioles in 1940 was the pinch-hit home run he hit in the top of the ninth inning of the International League’s Governor’s Cup playoff game, but Baltimore succumbed, 3-2, to Newark.

Starting 1941 with the Orioles, he injured his shoulder after getting in 40 games (he was hitting .250 with only three home runs). While recovering from the injury, Graham was sold on June 5 to the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association. He only appeared in nine games with Indianapolis, 5-for-18 at the plate, and it appears he may have been returned to the Orioles, because a Washington Post article in January 1942 suggested that the O’s were prepared to sell or trade “utility outfielder Art Graham.” [Post, January 22, 1942]

They must have moved him, because he began 1942 back in the Southern Association playing for the Memphis Chicks; in one notable game, he helped spark a June 12 rally against his former team, driving in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning as Memphis beat Little Rock, 4-3. After playing 71 games with Memphis, hitting .268, Graham was moved to the St. Paul Saints where he wrapped up his pro career in Minnesota hitting just .164 in 40 games with one final home run. He was never the same after the injury he suffered in 1941

Skinny raised a family, and there was another Skinny, but it wasn’t Arthur III, who explains: “When my older brother was born, my father was playing ball. He was a June baby and my mother named him Robert. He ended up with the ‘Skinny’ name. I’m Arthur Graham the third, but I didn’t get the skinny name.” What he did get were the genes of an athlete and the drive to compete. “We were playing baseball at an early age,” Art remembers. Their father was their CYO coach at St. Ann’s Parish in Somerville. “I had a third brother that was a batboy [on the CYO team]. My older brother was sort of one of the stars. I was the younger kid on the team.”  

Both Robert and Art III played baseball at Boston College, and in 1961 the BC team went to the College World Series. Bob was a senior and the second baseman, while Art was a sophomore and playing outfield. BC lost to Southern Cal in the semifinals. In 2009, the 1961 team was honored as the best in BC history. Art explained that his older brother “had a chance to sign with the Red Sox on a minor league contract, but he had signed up with the Marines in the ROTC program at BC – that was in the draft era, in ’61, and he had to go in.”

Art Graham played ball at Fenway Park – but it was football that brought him there. He was a wide receiver, an All-American drafted out of Boston College in 1963, the #1 draft choice of the Boston Patriots (now the New England Patriots). The young AFL team lacked its own stadium at the time and played their home game at Fenway. Art scored 20 touchdowns in his six seasons with the Patriots, which through 2008 ranked him 16th all-time among receivers and 29th all-time among the team’s leading scorers.

Because of his elbow, Skinny Graham was not accepted for military service. He worked at the Boston Navy Yard during World War II painting ships, and getting in a little baseball on the side. In 1944, the Associated Press noted that Graham was playing with the Quincy Shipbuilders team, in the new incarnation of the New England League. [Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 1944] After the war, he worked as a salesman and rug layer for Albany Rug of Boston and for McCarthy’s Liquor Store in Cambridge. He worked in the rug department at Raymond’s department store for the last several years of his life.

 Skinny Graham was a heavy smoker, even during ballgames, son Art readily admitted. “That was a problem. They all smoked back then. The coach at BC was Eddie Pellagrini and we used to hear the stories. Eddie would be smoking a pack of cigarettes during the ballgame. In the dugout. Playing with the Patriots, we had a half a dozen to a dozen guys smoking, during halftime back then. Three-quarters of those guys are dead. But back then, it was supposedly…the tough guys smoked.” [Interview with Art Graham, op. cit.]

Skinny suffered from emphysema for some years, but the proximate cause of death at age 57 was pneumonitis accompanied by some generalized seizures that hospitalized him for a couple of weeks before he died on July 10, 1967 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts of bilateral bronchioectosis. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. He was survived by his widow who lived until December 2003.

Sources:

Aside from the sources cited, the author also consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com and Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff’s Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball ( Durham NC : Baseball America , third edition, 2007).

Thanks to Bill Ballou, James Forr, Thomas Galligani, Chuck Burgess, Art Graham, Leigh Graham, and Tim Wiles at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.