Tagged: Old-time baseball

Headstone project honors “Too Late” Davis

Members of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club get together for this picture taken in 1862.

Members of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club get together for this picture taken in 1862.

By Glen Sparks

A handful of baseball’s most astute fans gathered Saturday, May 14, at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. They were there to honor the life of James Whyte Davis.

“Too Late” Davis, as many called him because he often showed up tardy to his own games, played for the historic Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, based in New York City, one of the sport’s early teams. Davis also served as Knickerbockers president for a time.

Born on March 2, 1826, Davis died in Feb. 15, 1899, put to rest in an unmarked grave. Now, thanks to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), that sad circumstance has changed. SABR, a Phoenix-based group dedicated to all things baseball, placed a headstone at Davis’ burial spot.

The black marker is shaped like home plate. An epitaph, a quote from Davis himself, reads “Wrapped in the Original Flag of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of N.Y. Here lies the body of James Whyte Davis. A member for thirty years, He was none ‘Too Late’ Reaching the ‘Home Plate.’”

SABR hopes to provide many more former players with headstones (or replace crumbling ones) through its 19th Century Grave Marker Project. Davis’s was the first. Other candidates include Hall of Famers James “Pud” Galvin, a 365-game winner, and King Kelly, who compiled a .308 lifetime batting average and led the league in hitting twice.

A page on SABR’s web site explains the Grave Marker project. Anyone interested can make a tax-deductible donation to support this mission. MLB has kicked in a $10,000 donation to help get things going.

SABR also needs members to do some field research and verify if a former player is buried in an unmarked grave or one that is in serious disrepair. (Click here for SABR membership information.) Former managers, umpires, baseball writers and others connected to the game also may be included in this project.

The stories of so many early baseball people have been lost to time. “Too Late” Davis’s story is worth knowing. He began playing for the Knickerbockers in September 1850 and kept going for 25 years. Davis roamed centerfield in the Fashion Race Course Games of 1858, a three-game series played in Queens, N.Y., between New York and Brooklyn and basically baseball’s first All-Star games. Davis competed for New York.

From 1858 to 1860, he was president of the Knickerbocker club. In 1867, Davis served as a delegate to the 1867 national convention of the National Association of Amateur BaseBall Players, the game’s governing body.

Davis also gets credit for designing the Knickerbockers’ first banner, unveiled Aug. 27, 1855, at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J. In the shape of a triangle, the banner featured a blue “K” set against a white circle with a red-and-blue background. Until 1875, this flag flew over the team’s clubhouse.

Besides being a ballplayer, Davis also worked as a firefighter and stockbroker. He never made much money, however. Late in life, knowing the end was near, Davis wrote a letter to New York Giants owner Edward B. Talcott.

Subsequently printed in the New York Sun, the letter read in part: “My wish is that Baseball players be invited to subscribe Ten Cents each and no matter how small a sum is collected, it will be sufficient to place an oak board with an inscription on my resting place. I desire to be buried in my baseball suit, and wrapped in the original flag of the old Knickerbockers 1845, now festooned over my bureau and for the past 18 years.”

The letter also includes the former ballplayer’s proposed epithet: “Wrapped in the Original Flag …” Unfortunately, times were tough, and the dimes didn’t trickle in. Davis was, however, buried in his baseball uniform, wrapped in the team pennnat.

Speakers at Davis’ recent ceremony offered kind words. A singer and violin player performed a song called “Ball Days,” written by Davis. SABR member Bill Ryczek said this: “It’s important to commemorate his presence since he was such a historic figure in baseball,”

It’s never too late.

Happy Birthday, “Cy”


By Glen Sparks

Denton True Young threw so hard that people nicknamed him “Cy,” short for Cyclone. Born on the farm in Gilmore, Ohio, on March 29, 1867, Cy Young made his major league debut Aug. 6, 1890, for the Cleveland Spiders. He tossed a three-hit shutout.

In an age of strong-willed ironmen, no one was tougher than Young. He won more games than anyone in baseball history (511), and he lost more games than anyone (316) over his 22 seasons. Young is nearly 100 wins ahead of the No. 2 guy on the all-time wins list, Walter Johnson (417 wins). The 6-foot-2-inch right-hander completed nearly 92 percent of his career starts.

Young retired at the end of the 1911 season. He put together one of the most extraordinary careers in the game’s history. Baseball writers voted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937. The great pitcher died in Ohio on Nov. 4, 1955, at the age of 88. One year later, baseball introduced the Cy Young Award, given out each season to the game’s best pitcher. (In 1967, each league began giving out a Cy Young Award.)

Poet Ogden Nash wrote this little ditty about Young for the January 1949 edition of Sport magazine.

Y is for Young

The magnificent Cy;

People batted against him,

But I never knew why.

Read more about Cy Young and his amazing time in baseball:

  • Young began his career with the Spiders (1890-98). He went from there to the St. Louis Perfectos/Cardinals (1899-90), the Boston Americans/Red Sox (1901-08), the Cleveland Naps/Indians (1909-11) and, finally, the Boston Rustlers/Braves (1911).
  • Young won at least 25 games in a season 12 times and at least 30 games five times. He won 93 games from 1901-03.
  • He started more games than anyone in baseball history (815) and completed more than anyone (749).
  • No one pitched more career innings than Young (7,356) or gave up as many hits (7,092). He topped the 400-inning mark five times and yielded 477 hits in 1896.
  • Young only made it through the sixth grade in school. That didn’t stop him from serving as pitching coach at Harvard University for a few months before the start of the 1902 campaign.
  • Baseball played the first modern World Series in 1903. The Boston Americans, winners of the American League pennant, went up against the National League champ Pittsburgh Pirates. Young, pitching in Game One for Boston, lost 7-3. He came back and won his next two games, posting a combined Series ERA of 1.85. The Americans won the best-of-nine match-up five games to three.
  • On May 5, 1904, Young tossed the first perfect game of the modern era (post-1900). Pitching for the Americans, he beat the Philadelphia A’s at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds in front of 10, 267. Young, who threw three no-hitters in his career, struck out eight batters in a game that lasted one hour, 25 minutes. He beat the great Rube Waddell.
  • Young aged gracefully. He tossed his final no-hitter in 1908, three months after he turned 41. He was the oldest to throw a no-no until Nolan Ryan hurled one 82 years later at the age of 43.
  • The pitcher is tied with Roger Clemens for first on the all-time Red Sox wins list with 192. Clemens pitched 2,776 innings for Boston, and Young pitched 2,728.1 innings. Cy spent eight seasons spent the Red Sox; Clemens spent 13.
  • A control artist, Young topped his circuit in BB/9 innings 14 times and in K/BB ratio 11 times. He led the league in strikeouts twice.
  • This all-time great retired with a career WAR (Wins above Replacement, according to baseball-reference.com) of 168.4. He exceeded 10.0 in seven seasons and posted a career high of 14.1 in 1892 for Cleveland. He ranks second on the all-time list, just behind Babe Ruth (183.6).
  • In 1999, baseball named Young was named to its All-Century Team, a dream squad made up of great players from throughout the game’s history. Other pitchers on the team included Roger Clemens, Bob Gibson, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn and Cy Young.

Hal Chase: Portrait of a Scoundrel


By Glen Sparks

Hal Chase played first base as well as anyone. By most accounts, he was also a scoundrel.

Chase died poor on May 18, 1947, at the age of 64. He left a mess of a life behind. The former ballplayer threw games like most guys threw fastballs. It didn’t matter the team or the league. Hal Chase was a dirty player.

George Stallings, Chase’s manager with the New York Highlanders (forerunner of the Yankees), accused Chase of “laying down” in games, according to a New York Times article written by Jim Reisler in 2013. Frank Chance, another Highlanders skipper, made the same claim.

Reisler’s piece, titled “Yankees’ 1913 Season Was Sunk by a Rogue Captain,” pulls as many punches as the accusatory headline. Chase was not a man to be trusted. He had, Reisler writes, “a propensity for dishonesty.”

He also was a borderline Hall of Famer. Harold Homer Chase, born Feb. 13, 1883, in Los Gatos, Calif., near San Francisco, grew up around a local lumber business that his family had built. The only piece of lumber that interested Chase, though, was a baseball bat. He played semi-pro ball in the Bay Area and at Santa Clara College (now Santa Clara University), a West Coast powerhouse.

The Los Angeles Angles of the Pacific Coast League signed Chase to a pro contract in 1903. The rookie quickly turned into the star of the team. (He also reportedly bribed players and umpires.) A reporter for the Los Angles Examiner wrote, “If Chase isn’t a great natural ballplayer, then Los Angeles never saw one,” according to an article on Chase in baseball-almanac-com. Soon, the Highlanders swept in and inked Chase to a deal.

New York City suited Chase. He liked the restaurants, the nightclubs, the fancy restaurants. He knew song-and-dance man Al Jolson and composer and theatrical producer George M. Cohan, according to an article written for the Society for American Baseball Research. Did Chase get to know some shady characters, too? That seems like a good bet.

Chase spent 15 seasons in the majors (1905-19). He batted .291 lifetime (but with just a .319 on-base percentage. Hal worked the odds, not the count.) The right-handed batter (lefty thrower. Chase was quirky in more than one way.) ripped 57 career homers, playing his entire career in the Deadball era. He led the Federal League in homers with 17 in 1915 as a member of the Buffalo Blues.

Mostly, Chase impressed baseball people with his slick glove at first base. Baseball-almanac.com includes a quote from statistical guru Bill James on Chase’s defensive prowess. “His brilliance with the glove is easier to document than Ty Cobb’s temper, Hack Wilson’s drinking or Walter Johnson’s fastball.” Hal Chase could pick it. (More on this later.)

Good glove and all, trouble followed Hal Chase. Or, more appropriately, Hal Chase followed trouble. Managers marveled at Chase’s range and the way he caught nearly every pop-up hit in his direction. They also accused him of being a “selfish prima donna” and a “disruptive force,” according to the SABR article.

He threatened to jump leagues from the majors to the outlaw California State League. He demanded that managers be fired.

“His neatest trick.”

Reisler’s article features a quote from Frank Lieb, one of the most respected writers in baseball history. Lieb believed the rumors that Chase cozied up in the back pocket of gamblers. “His neatest trick, I think, was to arrive at first base for a throw from another infielder just a split second too late,” Lieb once wrote.

Chase made fun of managers, ignored instructions, sawed players’ bats in half and the like. Oh, and he cheated at poker, too.

The Yankees (They began using that name in 1913.), which went into the season with high expectations, traded Chase to the Chicago White Sox on June 1. Chase was batting all of .212 at the time. The deal didn’t help. The Yanks still lost 94 games. But, Chase was someone else’s problem.

“Prince” Hal (an ironic nickname?) jumped to Buffalo and the Federal League during the 1914 season. He played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1916-18 and retired after his 1919 campaign with the New York Giants.

Rumors about Chase continued. Some say he acted as a middleman of sorts between the players and gamblers involved in the infamous Black Sox scandal of ‘19. Nothing was proved. MLB Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis threw Chase out of baseball anyway.

Even so, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included Chase in their 1981 book, The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. Chase also picked up 11 votes, or 4.9 percent of the total, on the initial Hall of Fame ballot in 1936, more than eventual inductees John McGraw, Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown and others.

Chase’s on-field talent is no longer so strong. Bill James, despite the previously mentioned quote, only rated Chase a C-grade first baseman defensively in his book Win Shares. Chase made lots of errors, purposely or not.

Post major leagues, Chase drifted from teams in California to ones in Arizona and Texas. By time he died, he had gone through a few marriages and had an estranged son. Near the end, he admitted mistakes and expressed remorse to reporters for at least some of his dirty deeds.

“I had been involved in all kids of bets with players and gamblers in the past,” he said, according to the SABR article. “I’d give anything if I could start in all over again.”

Lieb tried to figure out Chase, a tough job. “Nature fitted him out to be a superstar,” Lieb wrote. Unfortunately, “he was born with a corkscrew brain.”

Mathewson Wins 31 and Three More in World Series; Odwell Slugs Nine Homers


Christy Mathewson

Christy Mathewson

Look back at the 1905 MLB season.

By Glen Sparks

  • Cincinnati’s Cy Seymour leads the National League with a .377 batting average and 121 RBI. The lefty batter from Albany, N.Y., also tops the NL in hits (219), doubles (40), triples (21) and slugging percentage (.559) in by far his best season in baseball.
  • Seymour’s teammate, Fred Odwell, rips nine homers to lead the league. The outfielder did not make his MLB debut until 1904, when he was 31. He retires after the 1907 season with 10 career home runs.
  • Elmer Flick, the American League leader in batting average, hits .308 for Cleveland. He also paces the league in triples (18), something he does three times in his 13-year career. Flick wins just one batting title in his career; he actually finishes with a higher lifetime average (.313) than he does in the year he tops the league.
  • Christy Mathewson enjoys another big year for the New York Giants. He goes 31-9 with a 1.28 ERA. The right-hander also throws eight shutouts and strikes out 206 batters.
  • Harry Davis of the Philadelphia A’s leads the league in home runs (8) for the second straight year. He goes on to top the league in 1906 and ’07 and retires with 75 round-trippers. The first baseman hits for the cycle on July 10, 1901.
  • Rube Waddell, Philly’s enigmatic flamethrower, tops the league with 287 strikeouts. He also leads in wins (27, a career high) and ERA (1.48). Waddell retires with five 20-win seasons in his Hall of Fame career.
  • Mathewson, Weldon Henry of the A’s, Frank Smith of the White Sox, and Bill Dineen of the Boston Americans all throw no-hitters.
  • Jack McCarthy ties an MLB record by starting three double plays in one game for the Cubs.
  • Archibald “Moonlight” Graham makes his MLB debut on June 29 for the Giants. Graham plays right field in the bottom of the eighth but never comes to bat in his only big-league game. His story is told in the book Shoeless Joe and the movie Field of Dreams.
  • The Giants beat the A’s in five games in the World Series. Mathewson goes 3-0 in three starts with a 0.00 ERA in 27 innings. He gives up 13 hits, strikes out 18 and walks just one.

“Should Doc Adams Be in the Hall of Fame?” “Of course.”

"Doc" Adams

“Doc” Adams

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:

“Doc” Adams web site

“Doc” Adams SABR bio

Hall of Fame Considers the Case for Pioneer “Doc” Adams

"Doc" Adams

“Doc” Adams

By Glen Sparks

Marjorie Adams is the great-granddaughter of baseball pioneer Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams. Doc is a candidate for induction into the Baseball of Fame this year as part of the Pre-Integration ballot. Baseball experts credit Doc Adams for creating the shortstop position, serving as an early leader of the Knickerbocker Baseball Club and leading several early rules committees. He manufactured bats, balls and other equipment, and much more. Doc also ruled that bases should be placed 90 feet apart from one another.

Not surprisingly, Marjorie Adams is one of Doc’s biggest supporters. Born and raised in New York City, Marjorie now lives in Connecticut. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stephen’s College in Columbia, Mo., and is retired from working in the furniture business. She likes American history, Broadway musicals and Shakespeare. She also enjoys educating people about Doc Adams and is a big fan of both the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

This is the first of my two-part interview with Marjorie.

Marjorie, could you provide a brief biography of your great-grandfather?

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams was born in Mont Vernon, N.H., on Nov 1, 1814. His father, Daniel Adams, was a doctor and also wrote arithmetic and geography textbooks. Doc graduated from Yale in 1835 and Harvard Medical School in 1838. He moved to New York City in 1839 and set-up his medical practice. His primary practice was treating “stammerers.”

In 1866, Doc retired from medicine and moved to Ridgefield, Ct. Doc served one term in the state legislature (1870) and about 15 years as first president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank. In about 1888, he moved the family to New Haven. He died there on Jan. 3, 1899.

While growing up, how much did you know about your great-grandfather’s contributions to early baseball?

In 1939, my grandfather, Roger Cook Adams (1874-1962), wrote an extensive essay on Doc, not for publication, just for his family and descendants. Because of that, we knew quite a bit. I’ve learned so much more about him, though, in the last few years. I’ve read about 150 letters written to Doc by his father. They cover the years 1827-1864. They’re enormously revealing as much for what they don’t say as for what they do say. Not one letter to Doc mentions baseball at all.

I do have a letter from 1832, written by Nancy, Doc’s younger sister, in which she writes to her big brother: “I have not played with your bat and ball as you bid me. I forget it every morning and indeed I have not seen it since you went away.” She was 11, and Doc was 17.

Why do you think the letters fail to mention anything about baseball?

I suspect his father would not have approved of such a pursuit. He was a strict Congregationalist, and he would not have considered it worthy of a great deal of time and effort except maybe for a little exercise. To his father, education and making your way in the world with high morals and an active religious life was everything a man should aspire to accomplish.

How did “Doc” Adams’ baseball career begin?

According to Doc in a Sporting News interview in 1896, “I was always interested in athletics while in college and afterward, and soon after coming to New York [1839] I began to play base ball just for exercise, with a number of other young medical men.” (Baseball was spelled “base ball” in the early days.) I think he thought of the game as a hobby.

What do we know about “Doc” Adams’ ability as a player?

"Doc" Adams stands in the middle of this group of New York Knickerbockers in 1859.

“Doc” Adams stands in the middle of this group of New York Knickerbockers in 1859.

Not a great deal, but he was terribly enthusiastic about the game and would do most anything to promote it among the members of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. I do have a quote from a New York City newspaper, Spirit of TheTimes, Dec. 6, 1856:  “Adams, as short field has for many years, (sic) been deservedly distinguished. Excellent as a catcher and probably the most accurate thrower in any club. A ball sent to him to first base rarely fails in proving fatal to the runner. He strikes with great force, but by raising the ball he gives many chances to the long field.” Doc played, at one time or other, all positions except pitcher. He was even an umpire, and on Sept. 10, 1858 at the third match of the Fashion Race Course Games on Long Island (an early All-Star game), was the first umpire to apply the new rule of calling men out on non-swinging strikes. Doc had presided over the committee that had passed that rule earlier in the year. Doc also presided over the convention that founded the National Association of Base Ball Players (the first professional baseball league).

Is it true that “Doc” Adams helped form the famous Knickerbocker Base Ball Club?

No, Doc was not there when the Knickerbockers were formalized as a club on Sept. 23, 1845 (170 years ago). Again, according to Doc’s 1896 interview with The Sporting News, he “joined about a month later” He did play in two intramural games in November of that year. Among other things, what Doc can be credited with (and this comes from a number of respected historians and my grandfather’s 1939 essay) is holding the team together in the earliest years of the club.

After the June 1846 game against the New York Base Ball Club (which faded away after that), there were no other teams in New York until about 1850 for the Knickerbockers to play against, and enthusiasm ran low. Doc was VP of the club in 1846 and President from ’47-’49 (and ’56, ’57 and ’61). He gave the Knickerbocker members lectures at team meetings and dinners to encourage them to show up for practice days and intramural games. There is much more on this in The Sporting News interview, which is on our Doc Adams web site. It was Doc’s “love of the game” (his own words) that got members onto the field in the discouraging early days.

How did your great-grandfather go about creating the shortstop position?

Doc was responsible for making the balls for his club. Later, he made balls for other New York-area teams. These balls were very light and while they could be batted a long distance, they couldn’t be thrown very far. Getting a ball from the outfield back to the bases was not easy, so Doc created an intermediary player/position to catch the balls from the outfield and throw them back into the infield.  As the balls improved and got heavier, Doc moved himself into the placement of the shortstop position that it is today. The first year that he occupied that shortstop position was in 1849/50.  And according to my grandfather, it was his favorite.

The late sportswriter Red Smith once wrote that 90 feet between bases is the closest that man has ever come to perfection. Your grandfather gets credit for establishing that length. He also rejected the idea of a “bound rule.” Could you talk about these subjects?

Oh, thank you for the Red Smith quote. Yes, Doc did do that calculation of 90 feet between bases, as he said in the 1896 interview, “after careful study”. He also set the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate at 45 feet (That measurement varied through the years. In 1893, baseball ruled that the distance should be 60 feet, six inches, the current measure.) It’s important to keep in mind that Doc’s father was a mathematician. Doc was, too. He helped his father revise one of the editions of his math and accounting textbooks in the early 1860’s. Actually, I think he preferred math to his medical practice.

As for the “bound rule” (A fielder could catch a batted ball on one bounce and it would still be recorded as an out.), Doc worked very hard to eliminate that from play. He frequently and vocally spoke in favor of the “fly game” (A player needed to catch the ball before it dropped for an out to be recorded.) because he thought it made the game manlier. Unfortunately for Doc, he would be disappointed as the rule did not change until after he retired.  But in his last speech before the rules committee and his club, he predicted that someday the fly game would be the standard, and the bound rule eliminated.


(My interview with Marjorie Adams continues tomorrow.)

Which Boston Red Sox …?

He is the answer to No. 3.

He is the answer to No. 3.

By Glen Sparks

They are the team of The Nation and The Monster. They play in historic Fenway Park, in the same place Cy Young and Babe Ruth played and Ted Williams played and David Ortiz, “Big Papi”, plays today. They were the Boston American first, from 1901-1907, and the Red Sox ever since. They have won 13 pennants and eight World Series titles, most recently in 2013. Good luck with the quiz.

  1. Which Boston Americans/Red Sox pitcher led the American League in wins from 1901-1903, going a combined 93-30?
  2. Which Boston Americans outfielder was the first player to hit two home runs in a modern World Series game?
  3. Which outfielder broke in with the Boston Americans and was nicknamed “The Grey Eagle”? He batted .345 over his long career, with 3,515 hits.
  4. Which Red Sox pitcher went an amazing 34-5 in 1912 with a 1.91 ERA and 258 strikeouts?
  5. Which Red Sox pitcher walked one batter on June 23, 1917?
  6. Which Red Sox pitcher retired 26 straight batters on June 23, 1917?
  7. Which Red Sox slugger belted 50 home runs in 1938, a team record that would stand for 68 years?
  8. Which Red Sox great hit just .254 in 1959, 63 points below his previous season-ending low?
  9. Which Red Sox outfielder played on four national championship teams at USC and led Boston to the 1975 World Series?
  10. Which Red Sox Hall of Famer is that team’s oldest living player, the oldest living Hall of Famer and the last man alive to play in the major leagues during the 1930s?
    • Cy Young broke in with the Cleveland Spiders in 1900. He spent nine seasons by Lake Erie, went to St. Louis for two years and pitched eight years in Boston before going back to Cleveland. He won 511 games in his 22-year career.
    • Patsy Dougherty only hit 17 regular-season home runs in a 10-year career. He did, however, belt two in Game 2 of the 1903 World Series. The Americans beat the Pittsburgh Alleganies 5 games to 3 in a best-of-nine affair.
    • Tristram “Tris” Speaker, from Hubbard, Texas, spent nine seasons in Boston (1907-15) before going to Cleveland. He remains fifth on the all-time hits list and six on the all-time batting average list.
    • Smoky” Joe Wood came up with Boston as a hard-throwing right-hander. He was never better than he was in 1912. Wood went 117-57 as a pitcher in his career, but switched to the outfield in 1918 after suffering an injury . “Smoky” Joe later served as head baseball coach at Yale University for several years.
    • Babe Ruth, the greatest slugger of all-time, came up to big leagues as a hard-throwing left-hander. On June 23, 1917, in a road game against the Washington Senators, Ruth walked lead-off batter Ray Morgan on four pitches. The Babe proceeded to throw a punch at the umpire and was ejected.
    • Ernie Shore entered the game in relief of Ruth. The runner on base was caught trying to steal, and Shore mowed down the rest of the Washington hitters in order. Shore compiled a 65-43 won-loss mark over seven seasons as a journeyman pitcher.
    • Jimmie Foxx—“Double X”—slammed 534 home runs in his career, 222 of them during his seven years in Boston. He hit 50 in 1938, although he did not lead the league. (He was second. Hank Greenberg hit 58 for the Detroit Tigers.) He did finish first in RBI (175), batting average (.349), slugging percentage (.704) and several other categories. David Ortiz passed Foxx on the team’s single-season home run list in 2006 with 54.
    • Ted Williams batted .344 lifetime. He won six batting titles in his career, including ones in 1957 and 1958 before slumping to .254 at the age of 40. Teddy Ballgame rebounded and hit .316 in 1960 before retiring.
    • Fred Lynn played on the 1972 USC football team that won the national championship and the 1971-73 Trojan baseball teams that won titles. The Red Sox drafted Lynn in the second round of the 1973 draft. He hit .419 in 43 at-bats during a late-season call-up in 1974 and won the MVP in ’75. Lynn made nine All-Star teams, six with the Red Sox. He hit a memorable grand slam as an Angel in the 1983 game.
    • Bobby Doerr, born April 7, 1918, in Los Angeles, is 97 years old and counting. A second baseman and life-long Red Sox player (1937-44, 46-51), batted .288 with 223 home runs. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

“King” Kelly Ruled the Baseball World

KingkellyphotoBy Glen Sparks

Michael “King” Kelly drank whiskey and hit line drives.

He befriended bartenders and strangers. The son of Irish immigrants closed saloons and invented the hookslide. He swore off drinking a thousand times and led the National League in batting average twice.

Kelly, born Dec. 31, 1857, grew up in Troy, N.Y., the son of Michael Sr. and Catherine, who fled Ireland and that country’s terrible potato famine in the 1840s.

The elder Kelly marched off in 1862 with a volunteer Union regiment out of Troy. Unscathed in war, he fell ill not long after the final battle had ended. Michael Sr. died in Patterson, N.J.; Catherine passed away a few years later.

Young Michael took a job in a coal factory and began playing baseball on some of the top teams in Patterson, an early baseball hotbed. At age 15, he joined a team led by “Blondie” Purcell. That squad, featuring pitchers Jim McCormick and Edward Nolan (the “Only” Nolan, he was so good), dominated local clubs.

KingKelly11FreeBig-league scouts started looking at Kelly. The Cincinnati Red Stockings signed him to a deal. He enjoyed his first big year in 1879. Besides finishing third in the National League with a .348 batting average, he also ended up third in hits (120) and triples (12) and fourth in runs scored (78).

Cincinnati didn’t enjoy quite the same success that Kelly did. The team lost thousands of dollars, and owner J. Wayne Neff let go of all his players. Kelly signed with the Chicago White Stockings, the forerunner of the Cubs.

The man with the big, thick mustache and the shock of red hair spent the next seven seasons in Chicago. He led the league in runs scored three times and in doubles twice. In 1884, Kelly topped the N.L. with a .354 batting average. He topped the league again in 1886, this time with a .388 average. Now a superstar, the versatile Kelly played mostly catcher and in the outfield. He also helped out in the infield if needed.

After losing to the St. Louis Browns (actually, the forerunner of the Cardinals, not the future A.L. club) of the American Association in the 1886 World Series, the White Stockings owners sold off some of their top players. The Boston Beaneaters (forerunner of the Red Sox) hired Kelly to be player/manager. He was still a good player, he was Irish, and this was Boston.

The affable Kelly stayed a Beaneater for three seasons, but he managed the team only during that initial campaign. He went from there to the Boston Reds (The Players League, 1890), then to the Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers (the American Association, 1891), back to the Boston Reds (1891), then back to the Beaneaters and (1891-92) and, finally, to the New York Giants (1893) before hanging it up.

Kelly retired with a .308 batting average (.368 on-base percentage), 69 home runs and 950 RBI. He also scored 1,357 runs and finished with 368 stolen bases (Steals did not become an official stat until 1886, several years into Kelly’s career. He swiped a career-high 84 bases in 1887.)

But, Kelly’s career was more interesting than those numbers. As mentioned, he supposedly came up with the feet-first hook slide to avoid being tagged out. He often “cut” bases, rounding them without actually touching them. Sometimes, he got away with the trickery, sometimes an attentive umpire called him out.

According to some, while in the outfield, he’d stick an extra ball into his pocket. If a batter whacked a pitch over the fence, Kelly would take the sphere from his pocket and swear that it was indeed the batted ball. While catching, Kelly liked to throw down his mask in front of the runner and prevent him from touching home plate. At bat, Kelly learned how to foul off pitch after pitch, wearing out the hurler and, he hoped, drawing a walk.

Not only Kelly did excel on the field. He also performed on stage, touring with a vaudeville troupe in the offseason, often reciting the popular poem “Casey at the Bat.” The 1889 hit song “Slide, Kelly, Slide” proclaimed the ballplayer’s prowess on the bases and, much later, inspired a film short. Some experts call his book Play Ball, published in 1888, the first baseball autobiography.

Kelly made a lot of money, and he spent it all. He liked people, people liked him, and, as they liked to say, “hey, bartender, the next round’s on me.” He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stop drinking, no matter how many people pleaded with him. Kelly also liked to hang out at the track, and, hey, why not put down a bet or two? By time he retired, he was broke. “Mike was a friend to everyone except himself,” someone once said.

“King” Kelly died Nov. 8, 1894, just one year after quitting baseball. He contracted pneumonia in Boston, supposedly catching cold after giving another man his overcoat during a snowstorm.  He had traveled to Massachusetts to appear at a local theater with the London Gaiety Girls. They played “Nothing Is Too Good for the Irish” and “Poor Mick” at the wake. Years later, his widow, Aggie, said, “Mike was just an overgrown kid.”

Kelly was voted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 1945.

Bunny Brief Hopped to It in the Minor Leagues

By Glen Sparks

Maybe “Bunny” Brief couldn’t get around on a good fastball. Maybe it was the 12-6 curveball that gave him fits. Or, maybe he just didn’t like the big crowds. Whatever the case, Brief struggled mightily to hit Major League pitching.

The first baseman and left-fielder played four seasons, 1912-13, 1915 and 1917, for the St. Louis Browns, the Chicago White Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He only accumulated 569 at-bats, about a season’s worth for a starter. In total, he hit .223 with five home runs and 59 RBI.

Here is a little bit of background on “Bunny” Brief: He was born Anthony John Grzeszkowski on July 3, 1892, in Remus, Mich. He later changed his name to Anthony Vincent Brief. (Your guess is as good as mine as to why he played pro ball as “Bunny” Brief.)

Bunny might be just another player forgotten to baseball history. Except for one thing. He absolutely crushed minor league pitching. I mean, he hammered it. The right-handed batter holds the all-time American Association record with 256 home runs. He collected eight home run titles—five in the A.A., two in the Michigan State League and one in the Pacific Coast League. He belted 302 minor-league home runs.

Brief also led the American Association in RBI five times and in runs scored two times. He put together his greatest season in 1921, as a member of the Kansas City Blues. Brief belted 42 home runs, drove in 191 runs and scored 166 times, to go along with a .361 batting average and a .685 slugging percentage.

The pro baseball career of “Bunny” Brief began in 1910. He broke in as a 17-year-old with the Traverse City Resorters of the Western Michigan League, the WMIL, and hit just two home runs in 354 at-bats. The league expanded state-wide the following year, and Brief topped the Michigan State League in homers in 1911 (10) and 1912 (13).

Brief spent most of the 1913 season with the Browns but was back in the minors the following year. He enjoyed his first big season in baseball in 1916, whacking 33 homers for the Salt Lake City Bees of the PCL.

Bunny’s big run came from 1920-1926, leading the American Association five times in home runs during that seven-year span. He quit playing in 1928 but managed the Wausau, Wisc., Lumberjacks of the Northern League to a 60-55 mark and a fourth-place finish in 1938.

Bunny Brief never did much in the majors. But, he was a minor-league success story.

Thorpe Won the Game, Lost His Medals

The great Jim Thorpe suits up for the old Canton Bulldogs.

The great Jim Thorpe suits up for the old Canton Bulldogs.

By Glen Sparks

King Gustav of Sweden stood before the great Jim Thorpe following the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm and said what everyone else was thinking. “You, sir,” his majesty declared, “are the greatest athlete in the world.”

Thorpe, born on May 28, 1887, in the Oklahoma territory, the son of a blacksmith and the grandson of a Chippewa warrior, had just won gold medals in the decathlon and the pentathlon. He finished first in eight of the 15 individual events.

Thorpe to Sweden’s monarch: “Thanks, king.”

A ticket-tape parade down Broadway in New York City followed Thorpe’s triumphal return to the United States. Martin Sheridan, a great Irish-American track star and five-time Olympic gold medalist, declared Thorpe “the greatest athlete who ever lived.”

Sports fans had found a new hero. But, nothing lasts forever. In January of 1913, a story in the Worcester Telegram spoiled the good cheer. Thorpe, the newspaper reported, had played in some professional baseball games in 1909 and 1910. Indeed, he had.

On this date in 1909, Thorpe made his pro debut, taking the mound for Rocky Mount, N.C., of the Eastern Carolina League. A pitcher, Thorpe beat Raleigh 4-2. He violated his amateur status—an Olympic requirement–with that first toss.

Officials from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) went nuts. They reported The World’s Greatest Athlete to the International Olympic Committee, which ordered Thorpe to give back his medals. Thorpe pleaded his case.

He had only made chump change playing ball, he said, as little as two bucks a game ($51 in 2015 money). He didn’t know any better, he insisted. “I was not very wise in the ways of the world,” Thorpe confessed. It didn’t matter. Thorpe, in the eyes of the IOC, would now be an ex-medal winner. And, that wasn’t all bad. Pro teams began calling.

Football called first. Thorpe had played college ball at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa., established by the U.S. Army in 1880. He began going to the school at age 16, in 1904.

The young man made quite an impression. He not only competed in baseball, football, track and lacrosse, he also won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. On the gridiron, Carlisle Coach Pop Warner—yes, that Pop Warner—started Thorpe at defensive back, running back, placekicker and punter.

In 1911, Thorpe led Carlisle football to an 11-1 record. He scored every Carlisle point in an 18-15 win against a stacked Harvard squad.

The following year, Carlisle won the national championship. It even beat a powerful Army team 27-6 thanks in part to a 97-yard touchdown run by Thorpe (just after his 96-yard scoring run had been called back). That season, Thorpe ran for 25 TDs and scored 198 points.

By 1913, the Pine Valley Pros of Indiana were calling. Thorpe played football for two seasons with that club before moving on to the Canton Bulldogs of the Ohio League. Thorpe led the Bulldogs to three titles (1916, 1917 and 1919). He later played in the NFL, from the league’s inaugural year of 1920 through the 1928 campaign.

Baseball was a bit trickier. Thorpe’s big-league career lasted from 1913-1919, mostly for the New York Giants. His old pitching days behind him, Thorpe settled in as an outfielder, usually in reserve. The World’s Greatest Athlete couldn’t hit a curveball. Thorpe batted just .252 in 289 games and hit only seven home runs.

Thorpe spent most of the last few decades of his life in southern California, working at times as a ditch digger for WPA projects and as an extra in the movies. During the closing days of World War II, he served on an ammunition ship with the Merchant Marines. He died March 28, 1953, in Lomita, Calif., south of Los Angeles, at age 65. His death certificate listed him as “athlete.”

In 1983, following a long campaign led by Thorpe’s daughter Grace, the IOC reversed its 1912 decision and re-issued the two gold medals won by “the greatest athlete in the world.”