Celebrating Doc Adams: ‘A father of base ball’?

MONT VERNON – Daniel Adams was a persistent man. Born in Mont Vernon in 1814, he practiced medicine here with his father before moving to New York.

After work, he loved to play “base ball,” a crude forerunner of modern baseball, but in 1845 that wasn’t easy. The sport was so insignificant that no one manufactured baseballs or bats, so “Doc” Adams made his own balls and supervised a furniture maker in the production of bats.

Many years later he was interviewed by the St. Paul Daily Globe about those early years, and talked about how he and his teammates would take the ferry across the Hudson River to Hoboken, N.J. to play on the Elysian Fields.

“Once there, we were free of all restraints and threw off our coats and played until it was too dark to see any longer,” he said.

But keeping the sport alive was a “desperate struggle,” he told the paper.

“Our players were not very enthusiastic at first, and did not always turn out on practice days. There was then no rivalry, as no other club was formed until 1850, and during those five years base ball had a desperate struggle for existence,” said Adams. “As captain, I had to employ all my rhetoric to induce attendance, and often thought it was useless to continue the effort, but my love for the game and the happy hours spent at the ‘Elysian Fields’ led me to persevere.”

Adams played and umpired for the newly-formed New York Knickerbocker club for 17 years, beginning in 1845. The following year they played their first intermural game. He is credited with establishing the base paths at 90 feet, the length of the game at nine innings and the size of a team at nine players. He was also the creator and first player of the shortstop position, and in 1857 he wrote “The Laws of Base Ball,” which in 2016, sold at auction or $3.26 million.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Medical School, Adams left medicine and later became a bank president and member of the Connecticut legislature. He and his wife had five children.

Mont Vernon will honor Adams on Saturday, Sept. 23, beginning at 10 a.m. with a full day of vintage “base ball,” played by 19th century rules and customs at Lamson Farm. Teams from Maine and Massachusetts will join the Mont Vernon Docs.

Adams’ great granddaughter, Marjorie Adams, will be there with her collection of writings by Doc Adams from baseball’s formative years.

Last week, Marjorie gave a PowerPoint presentation about Adams’ role in the founding of baseball to the Milford Rotary, an Invitational sponsor. The visit and the Invitational were organized by Zoe Fimbel of Mont Vernon, who told the Rotary she learned about Doc Adams more than a year ago from a newspaper story.

In 2014 Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams was selected by the Society of American Baseball Research as the “Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend,” and in 2015 he was two votes short of being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

There was no one founder of baseball, Marjorie told the Rotary Club, and ball and stick games have been played since at least the middle ages. The story that Abner Doubleday, a future Civil War general, started the game in Cooperstown, N.Y., is now considered a myth.

But Adams deserves a place in the Hall of Fame, Marjorie said, and the Sept. 23 games are part of a push to enshrine him there.

The Doc Adams Invitational will be held at the 310-acre town-owned Lamson Farm, and the event is free. Spectators are welcome to bring picnics.

The rain date is Sept. 24.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.