Doc Adams helped shape baseball’s earliest days
“As captain, I had to employ all me 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.”
“In September 1845 some young men formed the Knickerbocker base ball club. They went into it just for exercise and enjoyment, and I think used to get a good deal more solid fun of it than the players in the big games do nowadays,” said Adams in an 1895 interview. “About a month after the organization of this club, several of us medical fellows joined in. The following year I was made president, and served as long as I was willing to retain the office.”
The Knickerbockers, the most organized and influential of the baseball clubs during this period, were led in their formative years by Adams. Under his presidency, the Knickerbockers became the model for all other clubs of the time.
“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 me 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.”
Prior to the mass production of baseball equipment, Adams helped standardize the game’s tools and learned how to make balls and bats for the Knickerbockers and later for other clubs.
“We had a great deal of trouble in getting balls made, and for six or seven years I made all the balls myself, and not only for our own club, but also for other clubs when they were organized,” Adams said. “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.
“It was equally difficult to get good bats made, for no one knew anymore 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.”
It was during the time between 1849 and 1850 that historians give Adams credit as the first to position himself as a short-fielder, which eventually became the shortstop position. He pioneered this innovative maneuver in order to relay throws from the outfield.
In 1856, Adams was a leading proponent in holding a convention of all baseball clubs to formalize rules.
“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 … the result was the assembling of the first convention of base ball players in May 1857. I was elected presiding officer,” Adams said. “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 bylaws became the National Association of Base Ball Players.”
As a leading figure in these formative times, Adams played an important part in the evolution of the sport. In helping to establish such recognizable aspects of the game as having nine players per team, the nine-inning game, 90 feet between bases, and catching the ball on the fly rather than being able to catch the ball on a bounce for an out, he can lay claim as an important early figure.