Mar 6, 2015
Efforts Ramp Up to Get CT Baseball Legend Into Hall of Fame
It wasn’t the pitch she was expecting.
A few years ago Marjorie Adams of Mystic attended a lecture in Simsbury on the pre-Civil War history of baseball when the speaker, Gary Goldberg-O’Maxfield threw the baseball history equivalent of a curveball—he discussed Doc Adams, and hailed him as a forgotten founding father of America’s pastime. Adams is Marjorie’s great grandfather and she was shocked to hear him included in the talk.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. Marjorie knew her great grandfather had been an early baseball enthusiast and had pioneered some practices, but she was unaware of the extent of his contributions to the game—few people were or are.
Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, who lived in Ridgefield for the last three-and-a-half decades of his life, was a member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (an early New York baseball team that played its games in New Jersey). While with the team, Adams invented the position that ultimately became shortstop, set the distance between the bases at 90 feet apart and fixed the pitching distance at 45 feet (the distance has since been moved to 60 feet). He was also an early advocate of several other rules that helped make baseball the game it is today.
(Above: Baseball pioneer and longtime Ridgefield resident Daniel Lucius "Doc" Adams. Below: Knickerbocker and Excelsior Base Ball Clubs, August 2, 1859, South Brooklyn, N.Y. Adams is fourth from left.)
After talking with Goldberg-O’Maxfield, and with his enthusiastic support and help, Marjorie embarked on a quest to restore her great grandfather to his rightful place in baseball history. Her ultimate goal is to have him inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but correcting myths surrounding baseball’s early days has proved as difficult as cleanly fielding a knuckleball in the dirt. The true origins of the game are shrouded in mystery. In 1904, Henry Chadwick, an early American sportswriter and baseball statistician, famously remarked, “Baseball never had no ‘fadder’; it jest growed.”
Some form of a game involving a bat and a ball has been played in Europe for centuries. A French manuscript from the 1300s shows people playing a baseball-like game and there are similar records in England. It is believed that these early games gave rise to cricket and the sport we know as baseball in America, which in its crudest form seems to have developed in the late 1700s or early 1800s.
Adams was born in 1814 in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire. By the 1830s, Adams was playing an early form of baseball called town-ball that was also occasionally called round-ball or base-ball.
After graduating from Yale and then Harvard medical school, Adams moved to New York City in 1839 and joined the newly formed amateur Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. It was there that he began to make his impact on the game.
(Below: Adams pictured with the Knickerbockers in 1862.)
Adams made the balls for the team and oversaw the production of the bats. The balls he crafted were lightweight and when they were hit to the outfield it was difficult for outfielders to throw them back to the infield. Consequently, the shortstop position was added by Adams to relay balls thrown from the outfield. Originally, it’s likely the shortstop stood behind second base a little ways into the outfield. Those who played that position “gradually started filling the hole between second and third that we’re familiar with,” explains Goldberg-O’Maxfield.
Adams was the presiding officer of the first conventions and rules committees to standardize the rules of the game. Prior to his efforts, different fields had different distances between the bases and the pitcher’s mound and home plate.
When Adams retired from playing in 1862, he was named “the Nestor of Ball Players” (Nestor is a wise king in Greek mythology). But despite the respect shown Adams by his contemporaries, he has been largely left out of baseball history, overshadowed entirely by Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright, Jr.
Doubleday was long believed to have invented baseball in a cow pasture in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1839, but that’s a myth that’s been thoroughly debunked. Cartwright was a teammate of Adams on the Knickerbockers and served under Adams on the original rules committee. Cartwright is a member of the Hall of Fame but Goldberg-O’Maxfield says most of the accomplishments listed on his plaque can be attributed to Adams. “Both Marjorie and I agree that Alexander Cartwright deserves to remain in the Hall, but the fact that Doc isn’t and that people don’t really know who he is, is something that we would like to change,” he says.
They’ve been somewhat successful in spreading the word about Adams’ accomplishments. In 2014, he was selected as the “19th Century Overlooked Baseball Legend” by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). However, getting the attention of the Hall of Fame has proven more difficult.
Goldberg-O’Maxfield says baseball origin-myth zealotry has gotten in the way of facts in the case of Adams. “Unfortunately, the people who control the game, the people who are the fanatics, it’s more of a religion and because both Doubleday and Cartwright are written in the bible, so to speak, anyone who says, ‘Wait a second, there’s this other guy you didn’t talk about,’—no one wants to hear about him. It would be like bringing a third person into the Adam and Eve story.”
As Major League Baseball begins spring training this month and kids across Connecticut and beyond dust off their gloves, few will realize the debt they owe Adams, and he’d probably be just fine with that. After retiring from baseball, he continued to make baseballs and play the game with his offspring. He also served as the first President of the Ridgefield Savings Bank and briefly as a member of the State House of Representatives. He never bragged about his contributions to baseball.
Marjorie says, “Doc said that his marriage was the crowning achievement of his life. Even in the family, his baseball accomplishments were all very nice but nobody considered it the most important thing. Education was always much more important to our family.”