When Marjorie Adams came to Mont Vernon from Connecticut recently to give a talk in the town where her great-grandfather was born, she had a confession to make.
There was a time, she admitted, “when even I thought that Abner Doubleday invented baseball.”
She doesn’t make that mistake any more.
For several years, Adams has been one of the leaders in the push to have Daniel “Doc” Adams – a Mont Vernon native who in 1857 wrote the first book of rules for what was then called Base Ball, the original of which recently sold for $3.2 million – inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and recognized as one of the true fathers of the game.
As part of the push, Mont Vernon will be holding a old-time baseball tournament on Sept. 23, at the town-owned Lamson Farm. Four teams playing with the equipment, uniforms and rules of 1864 will take the field for the free event, which starts at 10 a.m. And it lasts all day in a round-robin tournament. Vintage baseball teams from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire will participate.
Town resident Zoe Fimbel organized the event after first learning of “Doc” Adams from an article in the Telegraph in 2016. She admits it’s surprising she didn’t know of the baseball connection before that, since she has long been part of the town’s historical society.
“When I read that article in the newspaper I was, like: how come nobody ever knew about this?’ ” she recalled.
Apparently lots of people have forgotten about Doc Adams, and not just in New Hampshire.
“He’s the true father of baseball and you’ve never heard of him,” is a quote attributed to John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian.
Marjorie Adams and others are trying to change that. In 2015, Doc Adams was almost put onto the Hall of Fame ballot for what is known as the pre-integration era. Adams’ talk on Aug. 10 before the Mont Vernon Historical Society was part of an ongoing push to get him on the ballot, and in the Hall of Fame, in 2020.
That would be no small feat, considering the Hall of Fame was built in Cooperstown, N.Y., as a memorial to Abner Doubleday, the man once credited with holding the first game of baseball at that very site in 1839. That account has been largely debunked by baseball historians, opening the door to closer inspection of the game’s origins.
Daniel Lucius Adams was born in Mont Vernon in 1814. His father, also named Daniel Adams, was a physician who settled in Mont Vernon after graduating from Dartmouth and later became a state senator. He is best remembered today as author of Adams New Arithmetic, a mathematics primer that was widely used for many decades.
Doc Adams grew up in Mont Vernon, in a house on Route 13 that later burned. Adams would attend Yale and then Harvard Medical School. After college he moved to New York City, while the rest of the family moved to Keene, where most of its members are buried.
There is evidence that while in Mont Vernon the Adams children played one of the many variations of ball-and-stick games prevalent in early America: Doc Adams’s younger sister, Nancy, wrote him a letter asking where to find the family’s “bat and ball.”
But Doc Adams didn’t really get involved with the sport until he moved to New York City and set up medical practice. There, he joined a club called the Knickerbockers, which played across the river in New Jersey.
As Marjorie Adams told it, Doc Adams was influential in keeping the club going during its early years, rounding up players when participation waned, helping figure out the rules, and even making equipment.
She has a recording of her grandfather recalling his father preparing balls, which were made covered with leather that was sometimes made out of friends’ old galoshes.
“He remembers his father soaking the balls in water, to make the leather harder,” she said.
Doc Adams’s real legacy, however, came in 1857, when he was elected president of the Base Ball Convention held to codify rules for the new game, and was the main author on the first “Law of Base Ball.”
His hand-written notes, found after being lost for decades and sold for millions at auction in 2016, were the first time it was written down that teams had nine men, that games were nine innings (a decision made despite a loud contingent who wanted it limited to seven) and that bases were 90 feet apart. It also described home plate as being a round, white object made of hard material.
“What does that look like? It looks like a dinner plate! That’s why it is called home plate,” Marjorie Adams told the crowd.
Doc Adams later umpired at the first equivalent of an all-star game in 1858, also the first baseball game for which admission was charged. In that role he was probably the first person to ever call a non-swinging strike on a batter. And if that’s not enough, he is also credited with inventing the shortstop position.
Doc Adams retired from the game after his first child was born and his work was largely forgotten, while the tale of Doubleday’s invention of the game took over the national memory.
As for Marjorie Adams, she only found out about the connection when a vintage baseball club contacted her mother. She met a historian who told her more and then read Thoren’s 2011 book Baseball in the Garden of Eden, which fired up her ambition to help get more recognition for her ancestor.
She’s got a website – DocAdamsBaseball.org – and a petition to put him on the 2020 ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I’m not going to stop!”
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or email@example.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)