SABR

Bob Adams

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Bob Adams never played minor-league ball, either before or after his time in the major leagues. In fact, his entire career in professional baseball lasted less than 30 hours. He debuted on September 22, 1925 and wrapped up his career on September 23. The two games were very different experiences for him.

He was a right-handed pitcher who stood 5-feet-11 and weighed 168 pounds. The first game he entered was the first game on the September 22 doubleheader at Fenway Park. The Detroit Tigers had just pulled into town from Philadelphia. They were in fourth place, and the Red Sox were dead last, with a 43-99 record, a full 49 games behind the first-place (and reigning World Champion) Washington Senators. The next loss would be the 100th of the season for the Red Sox. They were prepared to start Ted Wingfield (11-17) in the first game and Paul Zahniser (5-11) in the second.

The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first off Detroit lefty Earl Whitehill, but Wingfield was the victim of some porous play behind him – five errors. He was charged with 10 runs, but only three of them earned. It wasn’t that he was very good, though; he did allow nine hits, walk four, and throw a wild pitch. He lasted six innings. Buster Ross pitched the top of the seventh and got one out in the eighth, but had his nose busted by a bouncing ball off Al Wingo’s bat and manager Lee Fohl asked Adams to take over. He didn’t walk a man, and didn’t allow a run, though he was touched for four hits in the process of securing the final five outs of the game. The Red Sox had rallied a bit, with three runs in the eighth, making for an 11-7 score, and added one more in the bottom of the ninth but saw loss #100, with a final score of 11-8.  Adams had one at-bat in the eighth; he’d singled and scored a run. He gave way to pinch-hitter Val Picinich in the bottom of the ninth.

The second game of the day was loss #101, by the score of 7-2.

The next afternoon, the Tigers started right-hander Ulysses Simpson Grant “Lil” Stoner, and the Red Sox countered with Howard Ehmke, who’d been a 20-game winner for them in 1923, and won 19 in 1924, but was now on his way to becoming a 20-game loser in 1925. Stoner allowed one run on seven hits in a complete-game effort. That one run came in the bottom of the ninth. Ehmke allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings, followed by Oscar Fuhr who gave up six more runs before closing out the fifth inning. Adams came into a game the Sox were losing 10-0, again as the third pitcher of three. By the time he completed four full innings of work, it was a game the Sox were losing 15-0. All five runs were earned. He’d walked three and allowed six hits, one of which was a Harry Heilmann homer (Heilmann hit a league-leading .393 in 1925).  Adams struck out one batter. The Sox scored that one run, but it was still a humiliating shellacking. Adams was 0-for-2 at the plate. He finished both games he’d entered.

Between the two games, he’d handled five chances in the field without an error. He finished the year with a .333 batting average, a 1.000 fielding percentage, and a “lifetime” record of 0-0 with a 7.94 earned run average, one of six Red Sox pitchers with ERAs over 7.00 that year. The Red Sox finished the year the same way they finished almost every year in the 1920s – in last place. Though they finished with the flourish of a three-game winning streak, they still lost almost 70% of their games (47-105). Against the Tigers, they’d been 5-17.

So who was Bob Adams? He’d been born Robert Burnette Adams on July 24, 1901, in Holyoke, Massachusetts where his father Oliver W. Adams was (by the time of the 1910 census) superintendent of the gas works, the municipally owned Holyoke Gas & Electric Department. Within the next decade, during Bob’s high school years, Oliver Adams took a job in Brockton as the superintendent of the Brockton Gas Light Company’s gas works. There had been some moving around in his family. Oliver himself was a New Hampshire native, born to a father who was a Granite State farmer in Hinsdale and a mother from the Green Mountain State, Vermont. Oliver and his wife Clara Burnette Adams (of Bay State parents) lived with Clara’s mother Elona Burnette and Oliver’s brother William, who worked doing repairs for the Brockton gas company. The Adams couple had a daughter, Christine, and then three years later had Robert. He was followed five years later by a brother, Burnette C. Adams.

Adams was a “big, husky youngster” from prep school Mercersburg Academy who looked to make the Lehigh University football team in September 1921.  He pitched in relief for a game against Princeton on April 8, 1925. Adams “put an end to the Tiger scoring but the damage had been done” and Princeton won, 8-1. [1] He was the captain and star of the team, but two days later the Brown and White team was going to have to play without Adams. For the second season in a row, he needed an unspecified medical operation, and had been out for quite a while. He came back and pitched briefly in the game on the 8th, but there was a minor follow-up operation planned as well so he’d be unable to go on the road with the college nine. He hoped to have the operation soon so he could rejoin his teammates.

His biggest day of the year may have come on November 11, when he married Miss Mary Ellen Thomas of Pittston, Pennsylvania, in ceremonies at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. One of Bob’s football teammates from Lehigh was best man. The couple planned to honeymoon at Lake George and in New England and then take up residence in Philadelphia. [2]

Bob Adams graduated from Lehigh with the Class of 1925 with a B.S. in Business Administration, and by 1928 was Lehigh’s varsity baseball coach and, that fall, assistant football coach.  By 1930, he was the school’s “physical director” and living in Bethlehem with Mary (whose parents had both emigrated from Wales) and their first son, Robert T. Adams, who’d been born within a year of their marriage. His last year as coach was 1937. At some point, he had a second marriage with M. Arline Koch. He went to work selling coal and in the early 1960s had a position with the A. L. Watson Co. of New York City. He later formed a coal brokerage firm in the anthracite coal region and retired from that post, living at a nursing home in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and dying in Lemoyne on October 17, 1996. He had lived to age 95 and was survived by two sons, William and Glen, a stepson and stepdaughter, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited within this biography, the author consulted his player file and questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. An obituary for Adams was found in the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (October 25, 1996). Thanks to Sean Leary of Lehigh University.






[1] Boston Globe, April 9, 1925


[2] Boston Globe, November 12, 1925
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