Index The Early Years (1814 - 1839) The Base Ball Years (1840 - 1861) The Retirement Years (1861 - 1899) Doc Adams Timeline

DANIEL LUCIUS ADAMS, MD

THE EARLY YEARS   1814 – 1838

 

Doc’s father, Daniel Adams MD (1773-1864) was born in Townsend, Massachusetts and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1797 and from the second class of Dartmouth Medical School in 1799. As well as being a practicing physician, he was a farmer, an author of widely used arithmetic and geography textbooks (the former was in use from 1801 to c.1864), a deacon of his Congregational church, choir master, a member of the New Hampshire Legislature, president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, and an early and frequent orator in support of temperance and abolition. In 1800, he married Nancy Mulliken (1789-1851) of Townsend, Massachusetts, daughter of Isaac Mulliken, a physician who served as a surgeon with the Continental Army in 1775.  In 1813, Daniel and Nancy moved to Mont Vernon, New Hampshire and would live there until 1845 when they retired to Keene, NH.  From the 1907 History of Mont Vernon:

A prominent citizen of Concord…Whenever the town of Mont Vernon was mentioned… would scowl and express himself thus: Mont Vernon! Mont Vernon! It was nothing but a community of savages before the advent of Dr. Adams, whose coming brought civilization into the town.

Doc’s older brother, Darwin, was born in 1801, followed by two girls (one died in infancy, the other died at age 10 when Doc was 6). Daniel Lucius (Doc) was born in 1814 followed by Doc’s sister, Nancy, in 1821.  It is not known where Doc received his earliest schooling but by 1827, at age 12, Doc was enrolled and boarded at the Kimball Union Academy in Meredith, New Hampshire. By late 1828 (or early ’29) he was attending the Mt. Pleasant Institution in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In 1830, Doc enrolled in Amherst College. In 1833, he transferred to Yale College from which he graduated in 1835.  Later that year, Doc entered Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1838.  It was at Harvard that Doc made the acquaintance of Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.) where they roomed at the same boarding house. (Two letters from Dr. Holmes to Doc are in this section.)

It was at Mt. Pleasant and Amherst that Doc made the acquaintance of Henry Ward Beecher* with whom, in later years according to oft-repeated family stories, he played flute duets in New York City. Beecher was two years ahead of Doc at both schools and both played the flute; these facts are confirmed. But attempts to substantiate the duets have been unsuccessful.  Beecher was a famous abolitionist and pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn during most of Doc’s New York years. Considering Doc’s strict Congregational upbringing and his father’s regular urgings for Doc to be part of the various religious revivals (particularly in the 1850’s), it is likely the acquaintance was renewed during their overlapping residence in those two cities.

In 1839/40, Doc moved to New York City and began to play base ball** with the New York Base Ball Club. He also set up his medical practice and was appointed a vaccine physician for the City (for which he was paid $400 a year). He also volunteered his medical services at the New York Infirmary for the Poor.

*a brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe
**two words in the 19th Century

“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.

DOC AND CORNELIA’S RETIREMENT YEARS

NEW YORK CITY, RIDGEFIELD AND NEW HAVEN, CT – 1862-1899

 

In late 1865, Doc and Cornelia moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut and in 1866 the first of their four surviving children, Catharine, was born. In a family tape recording made in late 1961 by their youngest and last surviving child, Roger Cook Adams (1874-1962), explains that Ridgefield was chosen because of the “altitude” and for “my mother’s health”. In a December 1865 letter, Cornelia wrote to a cousin:

We have hung some of the pictures – have the Resolutions [*] as large as life in the dining room – the glass was cracked in coming up –the only one that was injured. All that we packed came up safely, and we consider ourselves now quite adept in the art.

*This, of course, refers to the Nestor of Ball Players resolutions which is approximately 17 x 23, unframed. One has to wonder how this young woman, decorating her new home, felt about hanging such a “large as life” picture (and decidedly unfeminine subject and image) in her “formal” dining room!

In the same tape recording, Roger reminisced that when he was a boy, his father often joined his two sons and their friends in their backyard base ball games and even made the balls for their play! (Doc was in his late 60’s-early 70’s!) According to Roger, his father soaked the balls in a bucket of water to shrink the leather which made the balls harder.

While Doc no longer practiced medicine and considered himself fully retired, he became an involved, prominent and respected citizen of the town.  In 1870, he was elected to one term in the Connecticut State Legislature. In 1871, he became the first President of the Ridgefield Savings Bank (now the Fairfield County Bank where his photo still hangs in the lobby of the main office), a position he would hold in two separate terms for ten of the next fifteen years. He was the first treasurer of the Ridgefield Library (founded in 1871) and involved in the Land Improvement Association. He also played flute duets with Walter Avery both in Ridgefield and on Long Island at Mr. Avery’s home. Mr. Avery was a former Knickerbocker teammate and a distant cousin of Cornelia’s.

In 1875, at the invitation of his former Knickerbocker teammate, James Whyte Davis, Doc returned to Hoboken for a reunion base ball game to celebrate Davis’s twenty-fifth year with the club. Doc was the catcher for the older members of the club who played against the younger members. They managed five innings of play before ‘retiring’ to Duke’s Hotel for a meal and no doubt toasts and the sharing of stories of the old days! It was Doc’s last known visit to New York and Hoboken.

In 1888, Doc moved the family to New Haven because of the financial sacrifice of having his two sons, Francis and Roger, at Yale. He wanted to keep an eye on them to make sure they were studying hard enough!  It is believed the boys lived at home which saved the expense of boarding.

In 1881, in a Yale alumnae publication, Doc wrote in part:

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.

Other than raising and nurturing their family, very little is known about Doc and Cornelia’s New Haven years.  Doc passed away on January 3, 1899, Cornelia in 1902. They are buried in New Haven.

My marriage was the crowning achievement of my life.

Doc Adams, Yale alumnae publication, 1881