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Baseball Pioneers: Daniel 'Doc' Adams

By Patrick Mondout

Dr. Daniel L. "Doc" Adams was a member and long-time president of the pioneering Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and may have been responsible for a number of innovations previous credited to teammate Alexander Cartwright.

At a glance...
The Facts
Born November 11, 1814
Mt. Vernon, NH
Died January 3, 1899
Brooklyn, NY
1845-1862 New York Knickerbockers

Unlike Abner Doubleday or Cartwright, he was actually called the "Father of Baseball" is his own lifetime. Unlike his Knickerbocker teammate, Adams has not yet been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

See also: National Association of Base Ball Players, 'Early Baseball' FAQs.

How do we know what we know about Doc Adams? Because he told us! The Sporting News (TSN) of February 29, 1896 carried a priceless interview with Adams in which he takes credit for the 90 foot basepaths, the position of shortstop, and inventing the Internet. Well okay, all but the last.

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, or simply by reading it below:


He Resides 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.

"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 difficulties.

"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 charged.

"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 Players.

"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 neglect it.

"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.

"The Knickerbocker 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 Superior Court.

"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


In addition to James Whyte Davis and James Creighton, the true fathers of baseball (Henry Chadwick, Duncan Curry, William Tucker and William Wheaton) are also buried Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. For those of you tempted to graveyard-rob your next eBay offering, note that Davis was buried without a gravestone. Not that I asked.1

1. "Ground as Hallowed as Cooperstown," in the April 1, 2004 New York Times.

National Association sources/bibliography:
Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour.
Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game by David Block.
Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch.
Blackguards and Red Stockings by William J. Ryczek
The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 by Marshall D. Wright.
Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball by Warren Goldstein.
When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870 by William J. Ryczek

David Nemec, the tireless 19th Century Baseball researcher, has also written a novel called Early Dreams, which takes place during this era and features real-life characters such as Cap Anson, George Wright, and Henry Lucas.

General Baseball History sources/bibliography:
Baseball: A History of America's Game
by Benjamin G. Rader.
Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (PBS DVD)
The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present by David Pietrusza.
The Great 19th Century Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 2nd Edition by David Nemec.
Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1945-1972 by Dean A. Sullivan
Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel
America's National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development and Popularity of Baseball by Albert Spalding
Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia by John Thorn, et al.


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