You probably never heard of Doc Adams but that’s all right because a lot of people around modern baseball never have either. They are too busy with fancy analytics and esoteric statistics. That’s a shame, since without ol’ Doc, there would be a bushel full of base hits squirting between second and third base because he’s the man who invented the position of shortstop.
Unconcerned by today’s fascination with the exit velocity of the baseball, Doc Adams paid more attention to simpler issues like that gap between second and third base and the difficulty outfielders had relaying what in the 1850’s was a lightweight baseball. So Adams invented a solution, a player who would drift beyond the infield to make those throws from the outfield less demanding.
Nobody occupied that area of the diamond until Adams realized it would help the outfielders and, in the bargain, aid infielders defend a crucial piece of the diamond’s geography.
Smart cookie, this Adams fellow.
Equipped with degrees from Yale and Harvard, Daniel Lucius Adams set about a career in medicine in the 1830’s. But he was always intrigued by this new fangled game of baseball and played it for exercise. He joined the New York Knickerbockers and, during his 17 years with the team, played every position except pitcher and even served as an umpire. Later, he was pressed into service helping refine the rules of the sport, setting bases 90 feet apart, setting games at nine innings and teams at nine players. And that, by the way, would include a shortstop, something for which Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter would forever be grateful.
Cooperstown credits Alexander Cartwright with creating many of these foundations of the game. It says so, right on his Hall of Fame plaque. But while Cartwright was undoubtedly involved in its early development, he was not around when Doc Adams was codifying the rules by which the game is played.
In its early days, baseball defenses were rather rigid with as many as 11 players, but just three on the infield. The first baseman stood at first base, the second baseman at second base and the third baseman at third base. This left gaps for batters to seize upon, something that Adams realized. Put a defender there and it might help restrict the other team’s attack. So that’s what he did.
At first, the shortstop’s job was to relay the featherlike baseballs after outfielders retrieved hits. As baseballs evolved to a heavier weight, they became easier to throw, releasing the shortstop to concentrate on infield play.
Adams was something of a Renaissance man, involved with many aspects of our national game. He worked on the manufacture of baseballs and, as president and director of the Knickerbockers, helped refine the rules of the game.
In 1857, without any help from Alexander Cartwright, Doc Adams authored “The Laws of Baseball,’’ a document viewed as the bible of the game, that set many of the dimensions of the sport. The document is so revered among historians that it was sold at auction last year for $3.26 million.
Adams walked away from baseball in 1862, his imprint on the game permanently in place. Somehow, his contributions got lost in the annals of time until more thorough research into the origins of the game revealed how important he was to its development.
That led the Hall of Fame, keepers of baseball’s history, accurate or otherwise, to place his name on the Pre-Integration Era ballot for the first time in 2015. He received 10 votes from the 16-person panel, two short of election. His next chance at Cooperstown comes next year. It would help if Ripken and Jeter have votes.