“I have not played with your bat and ball as you bid me…”
The Early Years 1814-1839, Mont Vernon, NH, Amherst, MA, New Haven, CT, Boston, MA
Daniel “Doc” Lucius Adams, MD was born November 1, 1814, the second son of Daniel Adams, MD and Nancy Mulliken Adams in Mont Vernon, NH. His father was a graduate of Dartmouth College (1797) and its medical school (1799). He was esteemed and influential in his community for promoting temperance, abolition of slavery and morality, as well as an orator and author of an agricultural journal, geography and arithmetic textbooks (his Adams Arithmetic was in publication with various titles from c.1801 to c.1865). In 1846, the family moved to Keene, NH, where he continued the pursuits that occupied him in Mont Vernon.
Doc attended the Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, NH, then the Mt. Pleasant Classical Institution in Amherst, MA. Beginning his college education at Amherst College in 1831, he transferred to Yale two years later. (According to the family, his father felt that Doc had “fallen among evil companions” at Amherst and that at Yale he son would have a “more pious education.”) Doc graduated from Yale in 1835 and from Harvard Medical School in 1838.
The family has several volumes of transcribed letters from father to son from 1827 – 1864. (None of Doc’s responses are known to exist). These letters, with occasional postscripts from his mother and sister, cover family news, politics, agricultural issues and the weather. Every letter also contains admonitions to study harder, choose friends wisely and spend less money. A sample:
Dec. 14, 1831: A vigorous scholarship is necessary to prepare for a vigorous manhood. . . be accurate in everything you learn — one thing accurately understood is better than a confused, indefinite knowledge of twenty things.
None of these letters mention baseball except a postscript from his sister Nancy, age 11 to Doc, age 18 dated June 15, 1832: 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. Yet in the 1896 interview with The Sporting News, Doc said “I was always interested in athletics while in college and afterward and soon after going to New York I began to play baseball just for exercise with a number of other young medical men.” Even though there are no known letters for 1836-1844, it is reasonable to conclude that the letters do not mention baseball because Doc never mentioned it! He probably knew how his stern father would react. Yet, considering the life that Doc led, he obviously paid attention to his father’s advice.
After graduation from Harvard Medical School in 1838, he went home to Mont Vernon, NH to study medicine with his father and in Boston before moving to New York City in 1839 to begin his medical practice that, as implied by his father’s letters, concentrated on “stammerers.” He was also active in the NY Dispensaries treating the poor.
“As Captain, I had to employ all my rhetoric to induce attendance and often thought it useless to continue the effort, but for my love of the game…. led me to persevere.”
Doc Adams – Base Ball Pioneer
Daniel came to New York in 1839, set-up his medical practice and began playing base ball, although it is known he was playing some form of “bat and ball” as early as 1832 (See, The Early Years) at his home in New Hampshire, probably the Massachusetts game or Town Ball. “I was always interested in athletics, while in college and afterward and soon after coming to New York, I began to play base ball….”¹
The New York game was played by young lawyers, doctors, merchants, bank clerks and others who could leave New York twice a week at 3:30 pm. Originally formed in 1839 and called the New York Base Ball Club, “…it had no very definite organization and did not last long.”¹ Some of the younger members of the Club got together and formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, on September 24 , 1845 [with by-laws, a constitution and playing rules].” …. About a month after the organization of this club, several of us medical fellows joined, myself among that number.”¹ Adams and the other members of the club played base ball for exercise and its health benefits. The style of game being played was closer to a “country club” activity than to a modern baseball Club, the social aspect was nearly as important as the sporting aspect.
On June 19, 1846, Doc (the obvious nickname Daniel acquired during his time with the Knickerbockers) played in what is sometimes referred to as the first modern game of baseball (at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey) against the New York Club: the Knickerbockers lost 23-1. Doc scored no aces/runs and had one “out”. One month prior, he had been elected Vice-President of the Club.
The first five years of the Knickerbocker’s existence were the hardest.
“Our players were not very enthusiastic as first, and did not always turn out well on practice days. There was then no rivalry, as no other club was formed until 1850, and during these five years base ball had a desperate struggle for existence. I frequently went to Hoboken to find only two or three members present, and we were often obliged to take our exercise in the form of ‘old cat,’ ‘one’ or ‘two’ as the case might be. As Captain, I had to employ all my rhetoric to induce attendance, and often thought it useless to continue the effort, but my love of the game, and the happy hours spent at the ‘Elysian Fields’ led me to persevere. During the summer months many of our members were out of town, thus leaving a very short playing season.”¹
According to Doc’s youngest child, Roger Cook Adams, in his memoir on his father written in 1939:
Fortunately he was a convincing speaker, and the many dinners that were held gave him his chance to keep up the enthusiasm in the early and difficult days. The term “pep talk” would have meant nothing to him, but that undoubtedly was what the boys got.²
Playing equipment was an early issue; Doc stepped up to the plate and took it upon himself to make all the balls for the Knickerbockers (and for other teams as they were formed).
“I went all over New York to find someone to undertake this work but no one could be induced to try it for love or money. Finally, I found a Scottish saddler who was able to show me a good way to cover the balls with horsehide…I used to make the stuffing out of three or four ounces of rubber cuttings, wound with yarn and then covered with the leather.”¹ Getting the bats made was just as difficult “for no one knew any more about making bats than balls.¹ Doc supervised the turning of the bats to ensure the right diameter and taper often going to several turners to find “suitable wood or one willing to do the work.”¹
Doc Adams – Base Ball Player
“I used to play shortstop, and I believe I was the first to occupy it as it had formerly been left uncovered.”¹
Doc is credited with creating the position of shortstop in 1849/50 because the very light-weight balls would not carry into home base from being tossed from the outfield.
“The advent of the short fielder, or shortstop…was a radical development and distinct innovation…however, when Adams first traipsed out to a spot between and beyond second and third bases, it was not to bolster the infield but to assist in relays from the outfield. The early Knickerbocker ball [that Doc made himself] was so light that it could not be thrown even two hundred feet, thus the need for a short fielder to send the ball in to the pitcher’s point.”³
According to his son, Roger, shortstop was Doc’s favorite playing position.
Historical records of the Knickerbockers’ matches show that Doc also played first, second and third base.⁴ According to Doc, he was never a pitcher. He was a left-handed batter and was known to take some satisfaction in hitting his ‘at bats’ into the Hudson. His fellow teammates were less enthusiastic: they were paying him to make the balls!
Occasionally, Doc was also chosen as umpire, then considered a respected position of honor and trust for fair and just calls for both sides/clubs. On September 10, 1858. Doc was chosen to umpire at the third game of the Fashion Race Course Games on Long Island. It was in this position that “Doc Adams called three men out on strikes, the first time the new rule was applied.”³ (Doc presided over the rules committee that had passed that rule.)
Doc Adams – Base Ball Executive
In May of 1846, his first full year with the Knickerbockers, Doc was elected Vice-President of the club and would, over his seventeen years of membership, go on to serve six terms as President (’47, ’48, ’49, ’56, ’57 and ’61) and several terms as a Director. In 1848, Doc headed the Knickerbocker committee to revise the original rules and regulations from the 1845 formation of the club. And in 1853 with the formation of the Gothams (1850) and the Eagle Base Ball Club (1853), Doc was appointed (along with two other teammates) to be part of the committee at a meeting, requested by the Eagle Club, to standardize the rules of play: “the playing rules remained very crude up to this time…”¹
The outcome of this convention was voted on and approved by the Knickerbockers at their annual meeting in April 1854.
The by-laws of 1854 were almost exactly in the same form as those of 1848. There are the following additions to the rules: The position of the pitches was fixed at not less than 15 paces from home base. The forcing of men on bases by a hit is covered, also the put out by touching the base to which the runner is forced, “in the same manner as when running to first base.” The size and weight limits of the ball were first stated as follows: “The ball shall weigh from 5 ¼ to 6 ounces, and be from 2 ¾ to 3 ¼ inches in diameter.”²
By the end of 1856, there were twelve teams in New York and Brooklyn and in December, at a special Knickerbocker meeting, the Club (Doc was President) resolved to call for a convention of these teams for the purpose of standardizing rules and play. Again, by resolution, Doc and two other teammates were appointed to form a committee and call for a thirteen team convention.
This convention was held in May 1857 and Doc was elected presiding officer. One of the significant resolutions passed at this convention was nine players per side of play and nine innings of play: the team ahead at the end was the winner, and no longer 21 aces/runs.
“In March of the next year the second convention was held [at the request of the Empire Club] and at this meeting the annual convention was declared a permanent organization, and with the requisite constitution and by-laws become the National Association of Base Ball Players.”¹
“I was chairman of the Committee on Rules and Regulations from the start and so long as I retained membership . I presented the first draft of rules prepared after much careful study of the matter, and it was in the main adopted. The distance between bases I fixed at 30 yards—the only previous determination of distance being ‘the bases shall be from home to second base 42 paces; from first to third base 42 paces equidistant’—which was rather vague. In every meeting of the National Association while I was a member I advocated the ‘fly game’—that is, not to allow first-bound catches—but I was always defeated on the vote. The change was made, however, soon after I left, as I predicted in my last speech on the subject before the convention.”
“The distance from home to pitcher’s base I made 45 feet. Many of the old rules, such as those defining a foul, remain substantially the same to-day , while others have changed and, of course, many new ones added. I resigned in 1862, but not before thousands were present to witness matches, and any number of outside players standing ready to take a hand on regular playing days. But we pioneers never expected the game so universal as it has now become .¹”
Doc Adams – Retires from the Knickerbockers and Base Ball
On March 26, 1862 at the annual meeting of the Knickerbockers, Doc presented a letter to the club secretary, James Whyte Davis:
“I shall not be able to attend the meeting of the Club this evening and furthermore feel compelled to tender my resignation of membership. I do this with great reluctance but in accordance with a determination long since formed, never to remain an inactive non-playing member. It will be impossible for me to play during the coming season, but although absent in body, I shall be present in spirit. My interest in the Club will never cease, nor can I forget the many happy hours spent in communion with its members.”⁵
“Adams…was immediately named an honorary member and presented (in 1863) with a set of resolutions thanking him for his long and meritorious service to the club.”⁵ This proclamation/resolution (The Nestor* of Ball Players) was presented in 1863 to Doc as “a most gorgeously engrossed”² scroll. And so, Doc’s active participation in the game he loved and over which he had a significant and pioneering influence came to a close.
*A King of ancient Greece who advised the Greeks at Troy; a patriarch in his field, wise counselor, or leader.
¹ Dr. D. L. Adams Memoirs of the Father of Base Ball – The Sporting News; February 29, 1896.
² Nestor of Ball Players by R. C. Adams [Doc Adams’ youngest child, 1874-1962]; Buffalo, New York; August 1939. (unpublished).
³ Baseball in the Garden of Eden by John Thorn; p. 33 and p. 116 respectively; 2011.
⁴ Baseball’s First Innings by William J. Ryczek; p. 226-233; 2009.
⁵ Adams of the Knickerbockers by Robert W. Henderson; undated and unpublished; Paul J. Reiferson, Weston, CT (courtesy of John R. Husman).
Baseball’s Pioneers: The History Of The Knickerbocker Baseball Club, 1845-1866 by Charles Peverelly. Originally published in: Book of American Pastimes; 1866.
“My marriage was the crowning achievement of my life.”
Daniel Lucius Adams’ autobiography
Biographical and Historical Record
Yale University, Class of 1835
Published in 1881
The Retirement Years 1862-1899 – Ridgefield and New Haven, CT
In May, 1861 Doc (age 47) married Cornelia Ann Cook (age 31) of New York City and on March 26, 1862 he resigned from the Knickerbockers. (See The Base Ball Years). The question is: what caused his exit from a sport and team of which he had been so much a pioneering influence and integral part? The answer may be in letters from his father dated March through June of 1862; he writes of Cornelia and “their fond anticipation.” Then, her “perils”, “her convalescence” and their “most sad trials.” More than likely, Cornelia had lost a child; considering that and his own fluctuating health, Doc probably decided living in the country would be better for them and their future together. (His father, who died in 1864, did not live to see the first of their four surviving children, Catherine, born in 1866.)
In 1865, Doc and Cornelia moved to a home in Ridgefield, CT on Main Street (demolished in the 1950’s to make way for Ballard Park.) Between 1866 and 1874, Cornelia and Doc had four children: two boys and two girls.
While no longer practicing medicine, Doc became active in his new community. In 1870, he was elected to the State House of Representatives and was also the first treasurer of the Ridgefield Library in 1871. In the same year, he was elected the first president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank (now the Fairfield County Bank where his photograph still hangs in the Ridgefield office.) He served in that capacity for ten of the next fifteen years, left for five years, returned for two more, retiring from his banking career in July 1886.1 Doc was also a member of the building committee for a new town hall and helped form the town’s Land Improvement Association. 2
In 1881, Doc wrote a brief autobiography for a Yale alumni publication:
My marriage was the crowning achievement of my life… The current of my life has been very quiet and uniform, neither distinguished by any great successes, or disturbed by serious reverses. I have been content to consider myself one of the ordinary, every-day workers of the world, with no ambition to fill its high positions, and have no reason to complain of the results of my labor. The condition of my health has prevented active employment for several years past, but life has passed very pleasantly in the midst of a thoroughly united and happy domestic circle.
And no mention of baseball! Doc did attend the September 27, 1875 reunion of the Knickerbockers. And in 1939 (the same year the Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown), his younger son, Roger Cook Adams, in his baseball biography of his father wrote (in part): His interest in base ball continued to the end of his life. Even after he was seventy-five he would occasionally join his sons in a neighborhood scrub game, and astonish all the boys with his batting.
In 1888, Doc moved his family to New Haven. His two sons, Roger and Francis were at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School. This was a great financial sacrifice and Doc wanted to keep a close eye on them to make sure they were studying hard enough. (His father would have been proud!)
His final years in New Haven were most likely spent as he had written in the last line of his 1881 Yale autobiography: I have no plans for the remaining years of my life beyond the nurture and education of my children. There are no known letters or diaries from the last few years of Doc’s life from which to draw. Doc’s life came to a close on January 3, 1899 after suffering a bout of pneumonia1. He was buried in New Haven.
A wise man must remember that while he is a descendent of the past, he is a parent of the future.