By Glen Sparks
This is the second of my two-part interview with Marjorie Adams. Marjorie’s great-grandfather, Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, is a candidate for induction into the Baseball of Fame this year as part of the Pre-Integration ballot. You can read Part I here.
“Doc” Adams supported a nine-player starting line-up, is that correct?
Yes, he did. Keep in mind that in the early years, practice attendance was unpredictable. Whoever showed up, played. Six men or sometimes eleven and so forth. As the popularity of the game grew, by 1853, there was interest among the existing teams in agreeing to an exact number of players on the field. Doc was in favor of nine, but some members of the Knickerbockers favored seven. By a final vote, Doc was one of the members elected to represent the club at the city-wide convention of ball clubs (1856) and therefore was able to cast a vote for nine players (Nine innings for a regulation game also was established at that convention; Doc supported that, too.)
What were some of “Doc” Adams’ other contributions to early baseball? I understand that he worked on producing early baseball equipment.
Doc supervised the manufacture of the bats for the Knickerbockers. He would go all over New York City to furniture makers and select the wood himself. He supervised the turners so that the bats would have the desired taper, length and diameter.
He’d charge opposing teams $5 to make four balls. I doubt he made a profit. The money probably just reimbursed him for the leather and yarn. He’d get the rubber from his friends’ old worn-out rubber galoshes, which he would cut into strips.
Alexander Cartwright gets much of the credit for developing the game of baseball. How would you compare and contrast Cartwright and “Doc” Adams?
Alexander Cartwright, as I understand it, proposed the formal organizing of what became the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and was present at its founding on Sept. 23, 1845 (Doc joined the team about a month later.) Also, I believe Cartwright was involved with the first codifying of the rules in 1845.
The following year, Doc was elected Vice President of the Club, and Cartwright was elected secretary. Doc Adams played in the Knickerbocker’s first intramural game on June 19, 1849. Cartwright’s last game with the club was in late 1848. Early in 1849, Cartwright left New York City to join the California Gold Rush and eventually settled in Hawaii. From all I have read, Cartwright was a very good pitcher. (That was the only position Doc never played.) Considering that Doc played with the Knickerbockers for 17 years and Cartwright for three years, I’m not sure it is fair to either gentleman to try to compare them since so little concrete evidence exists as to their skills as players.
Why do you think your great-grandfather has slipped through the cracks and not already been elected to the Hall of Fame?
This may be one reason: After Doc retired from the game in 1862, he did not really talk about baseball. He did play with the Knickerbockers one last time in 1875 at a reunion game. In a brief autobiography for a Yale alumnae booklet in 1881, Doc did not even mention baseball at all. But, and this tells you more about the man than anything else, he wrote: “My marriage was the crowning achievement of my life.”
In fact, that accounts for why we don’t know more about him than we do. He never really talked about the game except for The Sporting News interview in 1896.
How would you sum up your case for “Doc” Adams being elected to the Hall of Fame?
Most baseball fans really love the stats. They love ERA, RBI, batting average, etc., and I absolutely understand that. Those stats are the yardstick by which all players are judged. Stats, though, did not really exist for mid-19th century players.
But Doc Adams was far more than a ball player. He invented a key position in the game in shortstop and made the decision to put bases 90 feet apart, changes to the game that are still with us more than 150 years later.
He was Vice President, President and Director of the Knickerbockers, and he headed-up the three rules committees of the New York-area baseball clubs from 1853 to 1858. He also made the equipment for the team. Most historians credit Doc for keeping the game going during its dark, early days and thereby possibly saving the game as we know it today from oblivion.
Still, in modern terms, it is not easy to judge his on-field abilities, but his contributions to the most formative years of the game are very clear. I believe that in this, the 170th year of his joining the Knickerbockers, it is the year he should be acknowledged by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
However, if it does not happen this year, I will not let this rest. I will continue to work toward what I want to see: Doc’s plaque at the Hall. This quest is as much for my father and grandfather as it is for Doc, and none of those gentlemen would approve if I gave up. Imagine how baseball might be now if Doc had given up in the early years of the Knickerbockers.
When did momentum build to get “Doc” Adams’ name on the Hall of Fame ballot?
It really started last year when Doc was awarded the 2014 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend by the 19th Century Committee membership of SABR (the Society of American Baseball Research).
Back in 1980, The New York Times announced that Nelson Doubleday Jr. had bought the New York Mets, and the Doubleday/baseball myth resurfaced. My nephew, Nathan Adams Downey (then age 12), wrote the Times in response to the article. He based it on the 1939 essay my grandfather wrote, and the entire letter was published above the fold.
That might have been the first real mention until the 1990’s when the Internet made baseball research easier. I started this quest in 2011. I had met Gary O’Maxfield of the Friends of Vintage Base Ball in Hartford, Ct. He knew ALL about Doc (which astonished me) and one day in 2011, with all the innocence of a small child, I asked him “Should Doc Adams be in the Hall of Fame?” He said, “Of course!”, or something to that effect. It never occurred to me. To me, the Hall was Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, etc., the really big, important players. So, here I am four years later. And if Doc does not get into the Hall on the Pre-Integration Era Ballot this year, I’ll be back.
To what extent is the effort to get “Doc” Adams into the Hall of Fame an Adams family affair?
Well, I mentioned my nephew, but I also must give huge thanks to my sister, Nancy Adams Downey. She has been my rock and shoulder to cry on and whine on! Since 2011, though, I have been the “front man” (as it were) on this. My other nieces, nephews and cousins have all been supportive and enthusiastic. I have assembled a team (my “Doc Team”) of just the greatest fans of the game and its history, and I could not have gotten to this point without any of them. The best part of the last four years has been all the great people I have met. I am truly blessed to have made so many new friends.
MLB historian John Thorn supports the induction of “Doc” Adams into the Hall of Fame. How important is that?
Oh, John Thorn is amazing! It was John Thorn’s book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden (2011) that taught me most of what I now know about Doc and his role in baseball and confirmed what my grandfather wrote in his 1939 essay. I will never be able to express how grateful I am for John’s extraordinary research and the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He is an inspiration to any historical researcher. Also, of course, I should recognize SABR’s 19th Century Committee. Their members have contributed so much to my knowledge, and many of them have been so generous with their own archives, particularly Bob Tholkes. I am also grateful to so many people who have supported my efforts and who have been so kind and helpful to me and my “Doc Project.”
Who comprises the committee?
The committee is made up of Hall of Fame members, Major League executives and veteran media members and historians. The committee has 16 members, and a candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to be elected to the Hall of Fame. (Click here to read about the committee and the other candidates.)
How tightly are your fingers crossed? Do you think this will finally be the year?
I am not by nature an optimistic person, so my fingers are so tightly crossed that I might never be able to untangle them. However, I cannot afford the luxury of being optimistic because the let-down if Doc does not get voted in will be too great. Either way, on Jan. 6, when the voting results are announced, there WILL be “crying in baseball.” I just don’t know yet what kind of tears. If we are not successful, I’ll wake up the next day and say to myself (as I have for the last four years), “what can I do today to get Doc into the Hall of Fame?”
Learn more about “Doc” Adams: