Yet where were Doc Adams' supporters when it came time to look for the
origins of baseball and, indeed, to induct pioneers into the newly-created
(if ill-placed) Baseball Hall of Fame? The TSN article was only 10 years
old when the notorious Mills Commission was formed, but since then their
mandate did not include seeking out the truth, it would be unfair to blame
them. As far as the Hall of Fame, perhaps too much to ask - especially for
an organization founded upon a myth and located in the wrong place - that
they be aware of an article that was by then over 40 years of age when the
voting for the first class of baseball pioneers (and executives) took
place. But shame on the older scribes for not knowing their history!
You can get this article by either purchasing the issue at auction
(almost invariably as part of a bound set for the year 1896), by reading
it in Dean
Sullivan's book Early Innings, by looking up the February 29,
1896 issue The Sporting News over at PaperOfRecord.com, or simply
by reading it below:
DR. D. L. ADAMS
MEMOIRS OF THE FATHER OF BASE BALL
in New Haven and Retains an Interest in the Game
NEW HAVEN, Conn., February 24—SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE:
In a pleasant home on quiet Edwards street, lives Dr. Daniel L. Adams,
who undoubtedly, more than any other man in the country, is entitled to
be called the Father of Base Ball. His brother-in-law, William S. Briggs
of Keene, N.H., makes this claim for him, and the facts bear it out.
Dr. Adams was born in Mt. Vernon, N.H., Nov. 11,
1814. He was, therefore, 81 years old last November, but one would not
think so to look at him. He is exceedingly well preserved, and his
active step and unimpaired eyesight and hearing go far to prove the
value of an active interest in athletics in early life. The doctor was
one of the first men to belong to an organized base ball club, and
quickly took the lead in all matters connected with the growth and
character of the National game.
A representative of The Sporting News
learning that Dr. Adams could tell some interesting reminiscences of the
old-time games, called upon him recently and found him very willing to
talk about his favorite subject.
"I graduated from Yale College in
1835," said he, "and from the Harvard Medical School in 1838,
after which I became a practicing physician in New York city. I was
always interested in athletics while in college and afterward, and soon
after going to New York I began to play base ball just for exercise,
with a number of other young medical men.
"Before that there had been a club called
the New York Base Ball Club, but it had no very definite organization
and did not last long. Some of the younger members of that club got
together and formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, September 24,
1845. The players included merchants, lawyers, Union Bank clerks,
insurance clerks and others who were at liberty after 3 o'clock in the
afternoon. They went into it just for exercise and enjoyment, and I
think they used to get a good deal more solid fun out of it than the
players in the big games do nowadays.
"About a month after the organization of
this club, several of us medical fellows joined, myself among that
number. The following year I was made President, and served as long as I
was willing to retain the office. Our playground was the 'Elysian
Fields' in Hoboken, a beautiful spot at that time, overlooking the
Hudson, and reached by a pleasant path along the cliff. It was a famous
place in those days, but is now cut up railroad tracks. Mr. Stevens'
`castle' stands far from the site.
ON "ELYSIAN FIELDS"
"Twice a week we went over to the 'Elysian Fields' for practice.
Once there we were free from all restraint, and throwing off our coats
we played until it was too dark to see any longer. I was a left-handed
batter, and sometimes used to get the ball into the river. People began
to take an interest in the game presently, and sometimes we had as many
as a hundred spectators watching the practice. The rules at that time
were very crude. The pitching was all underhand, and the catcher usually
stood back and caught the ball on the bound.
"Our players were not very enthusiastic at
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 for 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.
"I used to play
shortstop, and I believe I was the first to occupy that place, as it had
formerly been left uncovered. At different times I have, however, played
in every position except that of pitcher. We had a splendid catcher in
the person of Charles S. Debost, who would be a credit to the position
even to-day, I am sure. He was a good batter also, and a famous player
in his day.
"We had a great deal of trouble in getting
balls made, and for six or seven years I made all the balls myself, not
only for our club but also for other clubs when they were organized. I
went all over New York to find someone who would undertake this work,
but no one could be induced to try it for love or money. Finally I found
a Scotch saddler who was able to show me a good way to cover the balls
with horsehide, such as was used for whip lashes. I used to make the
stuffing out of three or four ounces of rubber cuttings, wound with yarn
and then covered with the leather. Those balls were, of course, a great
deal softer than the balls now in use. It was not until some time after
1858 that a shoemaker was found who was willing to make them for us.
This was the beginning of base ball manufacturing. There is now, I
believe, a factory in Philadelphia where 1,000 people are employed in
this one industry.
"It was equally difficult to get good bats made, for no one knew
any more about making bats than balls. The bats had to be turned under
my personal supervision, the workman stopping occasionally for me to
ascertain when the right diameter and taper was secured. I was often
obliged to try three or four turners to find one with suitable wood, or
one willing to do the work. In fact, base ball playing for the first six
or seven years of its existence was the pursuit of pleasures under
"The first professional English cricket team
that came to this country used to practice near us, and they used to
come over and watch our game occasionally. They rather turned up their
noses at it, and thought it tame sport, until we invited them to try it.
Then they found it was not so easy as it looked to hit the ball. Upon
this discovery, they began to find fault with the ball, and so our crack
pitcher took their own hard cricket ball, and gave them every
opportunity, but they had no better success.
"The first club to be organized after the
Knickerbockers was the Gotham Club, and its members became our special
rivals. I remember one game of 12 innings which finally ended in a tie,
with a score of 12 to 12. Soon other clubs began to form in rapid
succession, until there were quite a number in various places. It was
then possible to have matches of no mean size. There was one series of
three matches between members from all the New York clubs and all the
Brooklyn clubs. Our Knickerbocker catcher, DeBost, played in them all,
and New York won two out of the three. At one of these matches I acted
as umpire. There were thousands of people present, but no admission was
"The Gotham Club was organized in 1850 and
the Eagle in 1852. The playing rules remained very crude up to this
time, but in 1853 the three clubs united in a revision of the rules and
regulations. At the close of 1856 there were 12 clubs in existence, and
it was decided to hold a convention of delegates from all of these for
the purpose of establishing a permanent code of rules by which all
should be governed. A call was therefore issued signed by the officers
of the Knickerbocker Club as the senior organization, and the result was
the assembling of the first convention of base ball players in May,
1857. I was elected presiding officer. In March of the next year the
second convention was held, and at this meeting the annual convention
was declared a permanent organization, and with the requisite
constitution and by-laws became the National Association of Base Ball
"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 3o 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 had now become.
"I have no idea of the number of clubs at
present, nor the number of players at present, nor the number of persons
employed in making base ball material, but it is an important industry.
Newspapers are now obliged to report games and could not afford to
"William F. Caldwell, still living, I think
was a newspaper man who took great interest in ball playing at that
time. His paper was the New York Sunday Mercury, and it used to be all
he could do to help the game in his columns. He was one of the first to
report the matches and was generally a member of the base ball
committees, though he did not belong to our club.
Club had an existence of about 30 years, and my connection with it
lasted about half that time. An old book of rules issued by the club in
1854, gives the officers and members at that time as follows:
"President, Fraley C. Niebuhr; Vice
President, Alex. H. Drummond; Secretary, James W. Davis; Treasurer,
George A. Brown. Directors, Daniel L. Adams, W. E Ladd, Charles S.
Debost; Honorary Members, James Lee, Esq., Abraham Tucker, Esq., Edward
W. Talman, Esq.; Active Members, Duncan F. Curry, Charles B. Birney,
Ebenezer E. Dupignac, Jr., Fraley C. Niebuhr, James Moncrief, Daniel L.
Adams, William L. Tallman, Charles S. Debost, Henry S. Anthony, Alex. H.
Drummond, George Ireland, Jr., Benjamin C. Lee, Benjamin K. Brotherson,
George A. Brown, William F. Ladd, John Murray, Jr., Richard F. Stevens,
Thos. W. Dick, Jr., John Boyle, William H. Grenelle, John Clancy, James
W. Davis, George W. Devoe, G. Colden Tracy, William B. Eager, Jr., Otto
W. Parfsen, Edgar F. Lasak, Frank W. Tyron, Edwin F. Frook, Albert H.
Winslow, Louis F. Wadsworth, William F. McCutchen, Samuel E. Kissam,
Gershom Lockwood, Henry C. Ellis."
"Many others were members at one time or another. Besides those
named in the list I remember two brothers named O'Brien, who were
brokers and afterward became very wealthy. There was also a man named
Morgan, who was very successful in business. Henry T. Anthony is the
photographic supply dealer who is well-known all over the country
through his large New York establishment. Duncan F. Curry was an
insurance man, and James Moncrief became, I think, a judge of the
"The best pitcher then developed was not a
member of the Knickerbocker Club, but of the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn.
His name was Creighton, and he won considerable note in his day.
"James W. Davis, a broker, and secretary of
our club, is still living. He ought to go down to history as the first
base ball fiend. Indeed, we used to call him a fiend in the old days
because of his enthusiasm. He was an outfielder. We had a flag on which
were the words "Knickerbocker Base Ball Club," and I
understand that he has been giving orders that when he dies he is to be
wrapped in that flag. But most of the old players of the Knickerbocker
Club have already 'come home.'" Old Timer