Delayed but not defeated: Marjorie Adams, Doc Adams, and the Hall of Fame
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the SABR Connecticut Smoky Joe Wood Chapter’s Winter 2017 newsletter. For more information, visit SmokyJoeWood.com.
By Karl Cicitto
SABR member Marjorie Adams has had some extraordinary times since December 2015. Her great-grandfather, Daniel “Doc” Adams, author of the “Laws of Base Ball” in 1857, narrowly missed induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The “Laws of Base Ball” sold for $3.26 million in April 2016 and in the process Marjorie was able to hold and inspect the Laws in an emotional meeting with the seller. There have been satisfying and disappointing times in her five-year effort to have Doc Adams inducted. I interviewed Marjorie on November 2, 2016.
Q: You launched upon the journey to have Doc Adams inducted to the Hall of Fame some time ago. What’s been the most satisfying part?
A: It’s two-fold: learning an awful lot about Doc Adams that I never knew before. And more importantly, I’ve met just the greatest people. I marvel at the wonderful men and women I have met through SABR and vintage baseball. Their love of the game is wonderfully contagious. And I’m going to meet some more of them in Cooperstown in March because I am going to the Vintage Base Ball Association’s annual conference, and I’m friends on Facebook with a lot of them, where they message me and keep track of my activities.
Q: Was there something truly eye popping that you learned?
A: Yes, while reading the letters. I have about 150 letters written to Doc by his father. I have read them, re-read them and re-read them. His father counseled him on the state of his soul, how he should be studying harder, how other boys would do better than he if he did not work harder. They are really some of the dullest, driest stuff you’ve ever read. Except it helped me to understand the man that Doc Adams became because of those letters. And that’s been a tremendous eye opener. Since I’ve now been “living” with Doc for 5 years, he’s just in my head all the time. I’m really starting to understand him as a person and not just an “ancestor.” Reading these letters has been an opportunity that I will not have with anyone else in my family tree.
Q: If you could ask Doc’s contemporaries what he was like, what do you think they might say?
A: They would say they respected him. He was elected President of the Knickerbockers club six or seven times. I hope they’d say he had a sense of humor. My father had a great sense of humor so I hope he got that from Doc. I hope they would say he was a good player, maybe not the best, but what he might have lacked in athletic prowess, he more than made up for in enthusiasm for the game he helped to pioneer.
Q: After five years of working for Doc’s induction, has anything been particularly disappointing?
A: Yes. In July of this year, the Hall of Fame announced that they were changing the intervals for the Pre-Integration Era ballot. Originally the next ballot would have been in 2018. The vote has been moved to 2020 for induction in 2021. That was not a happy weekend for me. I cried, I ranted. Now I have two additional years of educating people about Doc and thereby promoting him and our case for him, and that’s tough. If I were younger it would make less difference. By the time of the next vote in 2020 this will be a nine-year journey. I was really hoping to get it done sooner than that. That’s the way it is: I’m not giving up.
Q: How did you come to learn about the change? Did the Hall of Fame call you?
A: It was online on the Hall of Fame site. One of my friends on my “Doc Team” might have emailed me. That was during this past Iinduction Weekend.
Q: Since Doc just missed by two votes and he may be nicely set up for the next vote, has there been any contact between you and the voting committee?
A: No. And I’m not entirely sure of how it works but it is entirely possible that next time there could be different voters on the committee. So, it could be like starting with a clean slate all over again. With the change in voting intervals, Doc will miss going in with two prominent New York players: Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. I’m sure Jeter will be unanimous. And that’s what I want for Doc. That’s what I’m working on. I’m not going for a majority of the votes: I’m going for all of them.
Q: How can you work at that?
A: I just chip away at it every day. I’ve made contacts on Facebook. People know people. It’s a matter of who knows who. It’s building the network. It’s contacts. I’m looking for a path to reach the secretary of the BBWAA. I’m looking for someone who could allow me to go to the Pre-Integration voters and plead the case. Whatever it takes. You never know who knows who. Maybe a newspaper article catches somebody’s eye and they reach out to me. I have met a lot of people who have reached out to me through the internet wanting to help. That’s also been one of the most satisfying parts of this. To learn how many people already know about Doc and want to help has been an extraordinary revelation to me.
Q: Was John Thorn at the top of the list of those that already knew about Doc?
A: This started in June of 2011 when my sister sent me John Thorn’s book, Baseball In The Garden Of Eden. Right there on the inside flap of the dust jacket is Doc Adams’ name. I was flabbergasted: I had no idea that Doc would figure so prominently in a history of the game. And, I had never seen the Sporting News interview before and it was better than finding a treasure chest of gold. I learned more about Doc in a hour with John Thorn’s book than in a lifetime with the family.
Q: You told me at one time that there was a portrait of Doc hanging in your childhood home in Manhattan where he was referred to as the “The Baseball Guy.”
A: We had the 1862 Knickerbocker team photo. (Doc is in the first row, 2nd from the left). You see, my father’s name was Daniel and Doc’s father’s name was Daniel. So when any conversation came up about a Daniel Adams, we referred to Doc as the “Baseball Guy.” That’s how we differentiated him. But as a family we didn’t know a great deal beyond that. We knew about the Knickerbockers and that he had been president of the club. I’m sure we knew about him creating the shortstop position. Since I’m the least athletic person of all-time, I didn’t always pay attention. How I wish I had! I had met Fred Ivor-Campbell at a vintage game in the mid-90s. He knew everything about Doc. Fred said to me, “Well you know Doc saved Base Ball.” And I laughed, I’m sorry to say. I’m sorry Fred is gone because I owe him such an apology. He did so much terrific research on the early years of the game. Slowly, because of the information shared with me, I’ve come to understand, acknowledge and appreciate the role that Doc played. It was a hell of a realization. He really was a big deal in early baseball.
Q: It’s got to be a tremendous source of pride for you.
A: Yes, well, that’s not a family trait. We’re old Puritans. We go back to the Mayflower. Pride isn’t considered an attractive trait in our family. If somebody says you did something wonderful, you say “thank you” graciously, and then you’re supposed to feel slightly embarrassed by it.
Q: Have you met Fred Ivor-Campbell’s wife, Alma?
A: Yes, I met her at the SABR 19th Century Conference in Cooperstown in 2014. Alma is delightful and we are friends on Facebook.
Q: Were you a bit of a celebrity at that Conference?
A: I kind of ended up that way. And occasionally when I go to some of these vintage events, I am made to feel that way although I’m not comfortable with it. Doc is the celebrity, not me. However, if that’s what it takes to achieve my goal then as my mother would say, “Put Up and Shut Up.” I’m doing this for my father and my grandfather and for the game.
Q: Are there other family members involved in the effort?
A: I’m the most involved. I’m it. My sister and brother-in-law help me promote Doc. … I have my Doc cards that I hand out and my sister’s and brother-in-law’s wallets always carry them. So do my nieces and nephews. We all hand them out to anyone who will listen. But I suspect I’m the most aggressive about it! It has taken over my life, which is not a bad thing. Someday I’ll have a tidier home — when this project is done. Until then I should just throw in a hand grenade and run.
Q: How did it come to pass that you got to actually hold the Laws of Base Ball and examine them?
A: I was contacted by John Thorn. He said I was going to get an email from a person who has something very interesting he’d like to talk about and that I could trust him. I got an email about an hour later from this gentleman. We arranged to meet at his office, at an undisclosed location. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement which I consider to be still in effect. I will not say who he is or where he is. I walked into his office and there spread out on the table … well, it was a jaw-dropping moment. I looked at the papers and I said, “That’s Doc’s handwriting.”
Q: And you know very well what Doc’s handwriting looks like.
A: Yes, I do. And now in retrospect since I have had the opportunity to read them, digest them, chew on them because this gentleman gave me copies, I would love to have another chance to look at them. Now that I know more and understand them better, I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and really study them. I was in a state of shock the first time. I am sorry that my sister didn’t get a chance to see them. She has seen my copies. You see, I had a copy of it all along because the previous owner gave it to me, but because of the confidentiality I couldn’t show it to anybody. I couldn’t tell anybody about it until after they sold for that monumental amount of money last April.
Q: This sounds like a very well capitalized and possibly well-known collector who made the purchase.
A: Yes … or a former major-league player who happens to appreciate the history. … I do not know who bought them.
Q: It had to be awe-inspiring to actually see the Laws of Base Ball in person.
A: I cried. I had tears coming out of my eyes. I cried because the publicity around these papers did not come in time for last year’s vote. And here I was holding an incredibly important Base Ball document, but the timing was off for the vote. Very bittersweet. We knew that nothing would be public until April of this year, well after the balloting.
Q: You felt more closely connected to Doc by holding the Laws but it came too late to help the vote. Would it have definitely affected the vote?
A: Oh, yes, I think so. Absolutely. The Laws are primary source proof. Right there in Doc’s handwriting is 90 feet — 30 yards which is how Doc expressed it — between bases. And no gambling. And 9 men, 9 innings.
You can read the 1896 interview with Doc Adams that appeared in “The Sporting News” at this link: www.docadamsbaseball.org/the-sporting-news-february-29-1896-issue. Marjorie is a member of the Smoky Joe Wood (CT) Chapter of SABR. Learn more about Doc at Marjorie’s website, docadamsbaseball.org. Read Doc Adams’ SABR biography, written by John Thorn, at SABR.org/bioproj/person/14ec7492.
Originally published: January 9, 2017. Last Updated: January 9, 2017.