#Hot Corner

Boondoggle 2012: Day 4

Hey, look what I found in Rochester ... Hollywood star Burt Lancaster's humble grave stone!

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No, not really. I will say true things, though, if you keep reading ...

That's Archie Graham's grave, in Rochester, Minnesota. But Burt Lancaster portrayed "Moonlight" Graham in Field of Dreams; in fact, that was one of Lancaster's last roles and he played it like the old pro that he was.

Surprisingly, as modest as Archibald Graham's grave is, the final resting spot of Lancaster -- certainly among the greatest movie stars ever -- is even less assuming. Because that's how he wanted it.

Bill and Hank and I, upon finding Graham's spot in a Rochester cemetery, just a few miles away from the Mayo Clinic, hurled the old spheroid for a few minutes, then got back in the car and hit the road again.

Our next stop was a medium-sized Minnesota town called Owatonna. For some reason it's blessed with a number of notable buildings and houses, but none more notable than the so-called National Farmers' Bank -- now a Wells Fargo branch -- designed by legendary architect Louis Sullivan.

Sullivan designed a number of buildings, many of them extant and some of them small-town banks, but this one's been described as "Sullivan's jewel box". Here's what it looked like yesterday:

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That's the image, or something like it, that most people see when they see an image of the National Farmers' Bank. But if you ever visit Owatonna, you simply must visit during banking hours. Because you've never seen the interior of a commercial building like the interior of this commercial building. I lack the vocabulary to describe it and the photos I've seen are inadequate; you simply must stand in the middle of it all, in wonder.

Then it was on to the Twin Cities, our Final Destination.

Before dropping off our car in St. Paul, though, we had just one bit of unfinished business. Bill really wanted to see Hubert Humphrey's grave in Minneapolis's Lakewood Cemetery, and fortunately there are a couple of notable baseball figures buried there, too.

Upon arrival, we first located the grave of Russell "Buzz" Arlett (and his wife, next door).

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You've probably never heard of Buzz Arlett. But Good Gravy, could Buzz Arlett hit.

As a rookie with the Phillies in 1931, the switch-hitting Arlett got into 121 games and posted a 138 OPS+.

Two things about that season:

One, the Phillies were mired in a long stretch of ineptitude, desperate for any help they could get.

Two, while Buzz Arlett was a rookie seeing his first action in the majors, he was also 32 years old.

Oh, and there's a three: Arlett never played in the majors again.

Why did it take Arlett so long to make it? And why was he never seen again? Apparently he was just about the worst fielder, whether in the outfield or at first base, that anyone had ever seen.

Arlett was known as "the Babe Ruth of the minor leagues" because he began his professional career as a (highly successful) pitcher before transmogrifying into a devastating hitter. Playing almost solely at the highest levels, Arlett finished his professional career with 432 minor-league homers and a .341 batting average.

He spent many seasons with the Oakland Oaks, but later in his career he joined the Minneapolis Millers and remained in the area after retiring. Hence, his presence in Lakewood Cemetery.

Just a few hundred yards away was Ossie Bluege (also with his wife), who spent his entire 18-season career with the Senators and was their every-day third baseman for most of that time. He was a pretty good hitter and a pretty good fielder, but didn't excel in any particular phase of the game and so has been largely forgotten.

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You wouldn't know it from his marker, or (I'm guessing) from the number of visitors he gets. But for an awful long time, Oswald L. Bluege meant an awful lot to an awful lot of people. It was oppressively hot in Minneapolis yesterday, but Bill and Hank and I still managed to fling the old horsehide for a few minutes, in Ossie's honor.

Our last stop, of Day 4 and the Boondoggle generally, was a few blocks away at the site of old Nicollet Park, where the Minneapolis Millers -- first in the Western League, then in the fast American Association -- played from 1896 through 1955. In addition to Arlett, Ted Williams and Willie Mays also starred there. There's a marker, on the grounds of another Wells Fargo branch and not far from where home plate would have been rooted ...

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(If you want more history, here's the reverse side of the marker.)

And so ends another Boondoggle. Next year, we'll be crisscrossing Pennsylvania in search of memorable sights on our way to Philadelphia. This weekend, though, we've still got the SABR Convention in Minneapolis, and I'll be getting my first look at Target Field, with the last-place Twins hosting the bizarrely competitive Royals.

As always, I will keep you, Dear Reader, posted.

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