Documents reveal Ridgefielder’s role as baseball founding father

The part that a former Ridgefielder played as one of baseball’s pivotal founding fathers has now become clearer, more impressive, and undeniable.

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, who lived in Ridgefield in the late 1800s, is the listed author on a set of documents from 1857 entitled the Laws of Base Ball, which went up for sale last week. The documents, which were the end products of a convention at which Adams served as president, codify many of the sport’s essential rules, including nine-inning games, 90-foot base paths, and teams with nine players on the field.

The documents are three years earlier than the 1860 date previously recognized as marking baseball’s transition from a game with numerous flexible rules into one with many of the established guidelines still in use today.

“The documents had come to auction in 1999, but not in a sports auction,” said John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, via email on Sunday. “The item was scantly described, not depicted visually, and a buyer purchased them for about $12,000, sight unseen. That buyer then tucked the items into a desk drawer, where they languished until this past year.”

At the time of the January 1857 convention, Adams was a physician living in New York and the president of the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club, the team on which he played. The Knickerbockers called for the convention, which included representatives from 13 other New York teams, as a way to formalize the growing sport.

“The Knickerbocker was the only club in the convention which existed previous to 1853; and the majority of the clubs were only organized during the last two years — some only last year,” said a story published in Porter’s Spirit of the Times on March 7, 1857, and reprinted on Thorn’s Our Game blog. “Although many old Base Ball players wore connected with the new clubs, it was generally conceded, and expected, that the Knickerbockers would, from their well-known experience, as to the requirements of the game, take the lead in proposing the necessary reforms. They, accordingly, submitted a new code of laws, in which they clearly defined every point in the game…”

According to Thorn, who was among the experts verifying the 1857 documents’ authenticity and significance, the Laws of Baseball sprang from three separate drafts, one authored by Adams and two by fellow Knickerbocker William Grenelle, who was one of the club’s three representatives to the convention along with Adams and Lewis Wadsworth. Adams is listed as the author on the final draft.

“Just because Adams wrote one of the three documents currently at auction and appears to have annotated the other two, which are the Spencerian hand of William H. Grenelle, we cannot say that ALL of the ideas presented sprang from Adams’ brain,” said Thorn in his email to The Press. “However, he [Adams] was president of the Knickerbockers; he was the one to call for a convention of other clubs to standardize and better define the rules, as well to promote the spread of the game; and the committee of all the clubs named him to preside over its deliberations.”

Adams, who has previously been recognized for his role in shaping some of baseball’s breakthroughs, specifically creating the shortstop position (which he played), was also involved in the creation of the Knickerbockers’ own set of rules in 1845.

“The rudimentary Knickerbocker Rules of September 23, 1845 do not survive in manuscript form,” wrote Thorn in a recent entry on his blog. “They were 20 in number, and only 14 of those related to how the game was to be played. The rules were published, with only slight modification, in pamphlet form in 1848 and again, with minor modification, in 1854, by which time three clubs — the Knicks, the Gothams, and the Eagles—were playing by mutually agreed provisions. Yet there was still enough ambiguity in the rule set that baseball variants arose, even in KBBC games: On August 30, 1856 the Knickerbocker and Empire clubs played to a 21-21 tie in eight innings in a match at the Elysian Fields [in Hoboken, N.J.].”

Another member of the Knickerbockers, Alexander Cartwright, has long been regarded as the official founder of baseball. But, as Thorn noted, Cartwright was no longer with the club when the 1857 convention took place.

“Once upon a time it was said that baseball began in 1839 with an Abner Doubleday brainstorm in Cooperstown; others later declared that story a fable while insisting it began in 1845 with Alexander Cartwright and the creation of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (KBBC),” wrote Thorn on his blog. “Cartwright is credited, on his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as having “set bases 90 feet apart” and “established 9 innings as a game and 9 players as [a] team.” Yet none of these aspects of the game were settled in 1856, when Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams set to work, some seven years after Cartwright had left New York for Hawaii, never to return.”

“I was stunned that these rough drafts of history had survived,” said Thorn about the 1857 documents in his email to The Press. “Perhaps most surprising to me was the confusion over how to end a game, which to that point had ended only when a team scored 21 runs in even innings. It was stunning to see that twelve innings had been contemplated, that seven had been proposed by the Knicks and adopted by the convention, only to have a last-minute switch to nine innings.”

Adams, who was born in 1814 in New Hampshire, moved to Ridgefield in 1867 after retiring as a physician in New York. He became the first president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank and the first treasurer of the Ridgefield Library before moving to New Haven in 1888. He died in 1899 and is buried in New Haven.

In recent years, two promotional campaigns have attempted to get Adams included among the Pre-Integration (1947) Committee’s candidates for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Adams made the final 10-person ballot in 2015 but fell two votes short of the 75% needed for enshrinement, despite being the highest vote-getter.

With the release of the 1857 documents likely to increase his profile, Adams may yet find a home in Cooperstown.

“Great documents are the products of great men, whose contributions — or even their identities — are often erased from mainstream history,” said Thorn. “Until recently, that had been the fate of “Doc” Adams, who more than anyone shaped the primitive 1845 rules of the KBBC to become the game that would endure.”

One-time Ridgefield resident Doc Adams (bottom row, middle) is on a ballot for the baseball Hall of Fame. Adams is shown with other members of the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club, circa 1847.

Recently discovered documents from 1857 point to the pivotal role that one-time Ridgefield resident Doc Adams (bottom row, middle) played as baseball’s founding father.

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