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A Yale presence in baseball’s beginnings

Whether you’re Giant or Royal, take a moment when you’re watching the World Series to give thanks to Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, Yale Class of 1835. Never heard of him? You will, if Marjorie Adams has anything to do with it.

Marjorie Adams is Doc’s great-granddaughter (she is also the daughter of Daniel Putnam Adams ’29S and the granddaughter of Roger Cook Adams ’93S), and she and her sister Nancy Adams Downey have made it their mission to see that Doc is recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame as a pioneer of the game. By now most of us know that Abner Doubleday didn’t “invent” baseball, and many now say that Alexander Cartwright’s role has been exaggerated. But Cartwright has a plaque in the Hall of Fame, and the Hall’s very placement in Cooperstown, New York, is the result of the now-discredited myth of Doubleday’s having invented the game there in 1839.

“I’m not saying that Doc invented baseball,” says Marjorie Adams. “Nobody invented it. It goes back as far as the pyramids. But without Doc Adams, baseball would not have become as popular as it has.”

The son of a doctor, Daniel Lucius Adams grew up in New Hampshire and went to Amherst for two years before transferring to Yale for what his father thought would be “a more pious education.” His history with some form of baseball goes back at least to 1832, evidently; in that year, his younger sister wrote him a letter at Amherst. “I have not played with your bat and ball as you bid me,” she wrote. “I forget it every morning and indeed I have not seen it since you went away.” (So now we know not only that baseball goes back that far, but that being uninterested in baseball does, too.)

Adams went to medical school at Harvard, then moved to New York City in 1839, where he practiced medicine and played baseball for exercise. In 1845, he joined the influential Knickerbocker Base Ball Club—which was founded by Cartwright—and served several terms as its president and chair of its rules committee.

The Knickerbocker club essentially codified the rules of modern baseball, and Adams was responsible for some of the most important ones: the establishment of the nine-player team, the fixing of the base paths at 90 feet, the nine-inning length of the game, and what is known as the “fly game.” That last one is important; while Adams was playing, a batter was called out if a fielder caught a ball after one bounce. Adams thought only a ball caught on the fly should result in an out, and the rule was changed at a convention over which he presided. Doc was also responsible for creating the position of shortstop, originally as a kind of relay between the outfield and infield in the days when balls were light and couldn’t travel as far.

Adams quit the Knickerbockers and baseball in 1862, when he was 48. Upon his retirement, the club presented him with a scroll proclaiming him the "Nestor of Ball Players.”

For Marjorie Adams, her great-grandfather’s contributions add up to recognition as a pioneer, and she has been lobbying baseball groups and the media in hope of getting Cooperstown’s attention. “I have a network of people who are helping me,” she says. “It’s a matter of educating people.”

Recently, her efforts got a boost from the Society for American Baseball Research, which selected Doc Adams as its “Nineteenth-Century Overlooked Baseball Legend” for 2014. The group has been selecting overlooked pioneers since 2009; one of them, early player Deacon White, was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.

Marjorie Adams says one of the most important contributions her great-grandfather made was simply to keep the young game alive. “He nagged his teammates to show up for games,” she says. “He cajoled them to get out and play. And like him, I can be rather tenacious.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Daniel Lucius Adams, baseball
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