2. The Base Ball Years

“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, Sporting News Interview, 1896

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 [23], 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. 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 [1862]. 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 [1896], 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 [1896].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.”

“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.”  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.

 BIBLIOGRAPHY/SOURCES

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.

  Baseball’s First Innings by William J. Ryczek; p. 226-233; 2009.

  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.

Special thanks to: Gary and Karen O’Maxfield, and Roger and Cathy Ratzenberger, (of the Friends of Vintage Base Ball), John R. Husman, Frederick Ivor-Campbell