Posts Tagged ‘Daniel “Doc” Adams’

Making Shortstop

April 14, 2016
The 1865 Atlantic

The 1865 Atlantic

It appears that when baseball first began it didn’t use nine players. The position of shortstop didn’t exist until later. There are several stories about its creation. The most common one is that the 1840s and 1850s baseballs were too soft to throw in from the outfield unless you were a giant like Henry Polhemus. So a short fielder (much like the 10th man in a slow pitch softball game) was invented to act as a primitive cutoff man. According to tradition the Knickerbockers invented the position with Daniel “Doc” Adams being the man who took the role. Some sources credit Adams with inventing the job, but I can find no contemporary evidence to collaborate that. Whether he did or didn’t invent the position, Adams played it pretty much as described above. It was Dickey Pearce who receives most of the credit for making the modern position.

Pearce, the man in the middle of the top row in the picture above, was born in Brooklyn in 1836 and took to sports quickly. By age 20 he was recognized as a coming cricket player. The Atlantic, formed in 1855, picked him up and sent him to center field. The move from cricket to baseball was fairly common in the era (Harry Wright being an early example). By 1857 he’d taken over the short fielder (shortstop) position. By 1857 the short fielder was mobile, covering both the second-third gap and the first-second gap, taking short flies, and doing cutoff duties. Pearce began stationing himself primarily in the second-third gap in order to stop the most common path a baseball took to the outfield. As far as I can tell he’s credited with being the first to move from the outfield to the infield when plugging that gap (but don’t bet the farm on that being true). He was quick enough to continue the cutoff duties and to handle most of the short flies between second and third and cover a few just to the first base side of second. Other teams noticed and the short fielder quickly became the shortstop stationed between second and third.

As with most players of the era, Pearce played multiple positions. He took turns in the outfield and also behind the plate, where he was noted as a particularly agile catcher. He is credited with being the first (but probably was merely among the first) to use catcher’s signals for the pitcher. And he was a star. He captained the Atlantic, a much more important position in 1860 than today. The Atlantic ran off championships in the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players in 1859, 1860, and 1861.

He missed the Civil War, staying with the Atlantic through the conflict. By this time he was getting paid to play. A couple of sources indicate that he, Jim Creighton, and Al Reach were the first professionals, although that’s probably impossible to prove. As the teams were supposed to be composed strictly of amateurs, he got his money under the table so amounts are unknown.

By 1864 the Atlantic were back on top of the Association with Pearce still as captain. They maintained their run through 1865 and 1866. Pearce jumped the team in late ’66 (going to Creighton’s old team, the Excelsiors), but returned by the end of the season. It cost him his captaincy, but the team won another pennant. During this period he’s supposed to have been the first player to utilize the bunt.

He remained with the Atlantic, adding another pennant, through 1870. In that year he participated in the game than ended the Cincinnati Red Stockings undefeated run at 89 games. The next season the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the first professional league) was formed. The Atlantic decided not to participate and Pearce moved to the New York Mutual. He was 35 and on the downside of his career. He didn’t do particularly well in either ’71 or ’72 with the Mutual and went back to the Atlantic (now a part of the Association) for 1873 and 1874. He had one last decent year in ’74, then moved on to St. Louis. He stayed there through the founding of the National League and finally left the team at age 41 in 1877.

He played a little minor league ball, umpired a bit, did some semi-pro work, and managed. Frankly he wasn’t very successful at any of them. He was roundly criticized for his umpiring skills, frequently by both teams (At least he was fair in his awfulness). He clerked for the Brooklyn water board, worked at the Polo Grounds, and finally became a farmer in Massachusetts. He died of heart disease at his farm in 1908. As he has only two seasons in the National League and the National Association is not recognized as a “major league,” he is not eligible for the Hall of Fame except as some pre-professional league pioneer.

Pearce's grave at Find a Grave

Pearce’s grave at Find a Grave

The 2015 Veteran’s Committee Election: the Contributors

October 16, 2015

This year the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee is charged with making a decision on the worthiness of four contributors for enshrinement at Cooperstown. Here’s a short look at each.

Doc Adams

Doc Adams

Daniel “Doc” Adams was a medical doctor who can be legitimately designated as one of the founders of baseball. An early member of the Knickerbockers, he served as club president, later serving (and heading) the committee that drafted a set of rules under which the National Association of Base Ball Players operated. He claimed credit for inventing the shortstop position (although we have no contemporary evidence he did). It is provable that he did help foster a series of rules that made the game work much like the modern game.

Samuel Breaden

Samuel Breaden

Sam Breaden was a successful auto dealer who purchased a part of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1917. In 1920 he took control of the team and the team that had been a perennial loser since the 1880s became a National League powerhouse and arguably the second most successful franchise (behind the New York Yankees) in baseball. While owner his team won nine pennants and picked up a World Series victory six times. He understood and utilized the talents of initial manager Branch Rickey by moving Rickey to the front office. He further understood Rickey’s idea of a “farm system” would benefit the Cardinals, and ultimately all of baseball. He made Rogers Hornsby, the team’s star player, the manager and the Cards won a pennant and a championship. He later moved Hornsby to another team when it became evident the manager was alienating the entire clubhouse (not to mention disagreeing with Breaden over exhibition games). In 1947 he joined NL President Ford Frick in stifling a player revolt in St. Louis over the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the majors. He sold the team in 1947.

August Hermann

August Hermann

August “Gerry” Hermann was a wealthy Cincinnati political figure who purchased part interest in the Cincinnati Reds in 1902. He became chief of baseball operations and team President. In 1903 he helped broker the “Cincinnati Peace Treaty” that ended the war between the National League and the new American League. He was chosen President of the National Commission, the executive group that ran baseball, and remained President until the Commission was dissolved in 1920. He is sometimes, erroneously, called “The Father of the World Series.” He did push for the reinstatement of the World Series after it was not played in 1904 and had backed Barney Dreyfuss in creating the original Series in 1903. He remained owner of the Reds until 1927.

the statue on Chris von der Ahe's grave

the statue on Chris von der Ahe’s grave

Chris von der Ahe may have been the most colorful man to ever own a Major League team. He ran a grocery and saloon and in 1892, seeing an opportunity to make money on tickets and selling beer, purchased the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals). Knowing nothing about baseball when he initially purchased the team, he built a successful franchise that won four consecutive American Association pennants in the 1880s by listening to his manager (Charles Comiskey) and having a shrew knowledge of finance. He is alleged to have invented the ballpark hot dog and to have established the first recreational area at a ball park (it was a beer garden). Both of those statements may or may not be true. In 1891 he moved his team to the National League (the American Association folded), but the team was unsuccessful competing in the new league and he was forced out as owner in 1898. The statue accompanying this blurb originally stood in front of the Browns stadium in St. Louis and is currently located above von der Ahe’s grave.

Again, where do I stand on these four? I have personal rule that, as a rule, I don’t like to see more than one contributing non-player elected to the Hall of Fame in a single year. It’s not hard and fast, so I’m quite willing to bend it this time. “Doc” Adams is an easy call for me as one of the true pioneers of the game and Hermann deserves to be in for his handling of the “League War” of 1901-03, his determination to reestablish the World Series, and for his leadership of the National Commission. Although the Black Sox scandal happened on his watch, as the Cincy owner he was more than willing to overlook the innuendos of fixing because he believed his team had genuinely won fairly. I think eventually Breaden ought to go in, but not this time.  And as for von der Ahe, frankly I don’t have any idea exactly how to separate a character like him from his baseball achievements (but, heck, how many owners have a stadium statue?). He’s one of the more fun people in baseball to study, but I don’t think that makes him a Hall of Famer.

That concludes this year’s look at the Vets ballot. Fell free to either agree or disagree.