Meet the American who is the ‘true father of baseball,’ New York City physician Daniel ‘Doc’ Adams

Daniel “Doc” Adams nurtured baseball in its formative years of the mid-1800s as if it were his only child. 

He laid down the laws of baseball in its infancy, guiding the sport the rest of its days.

He taught important life skills to the game, from playing shortstop to umpiring — all essential to its growth.

He provided for baseball when it was needy, making the earliest bats and balls so that others could enjoy the game he loved as his own. 

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“Doc Adams is the true father of baseball,” John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, told Fox News Digital. 

Thorn first made that claim in a 1992 article for Elysian Fields Quarterly, a journal of baseball scholarship. He has repeated the statement many times since. 

Daniel "Doc" Adams, a native of New Hampshire and a Harvard-trained physician, played a critical role in the development of baseball in the 1840s and 1850s. His incredible contributions were either lost to history or credited to others. Baseball historians and enthusiasts are working to recognize Adams and get him enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Daniel “Doc” Adams, a native of New Hampshire and a Harvard-trained physician, played a critical role in the development of baseball in the 1840s and 1850s. His incredible contributions were either lost to history or credited to others. Baseball historians and enthusiasts are working to recognize Adams and get him enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  (Public Domain)

Adams was dubbed the “father of baseball” in the press as early as 1895. Yet when he died in 1899, his legacy as the essential figure in the foundation of the National Pastime died with him. 

The vacuum in public perception of baseball lore was filled by other figures — less consequential figures, according to the experts today. 

“Doc Adams is the true father of baseball.” — John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball

The popular origin story of baseball is that it was invented by Abner Doubleday, later a Civil War hero, in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839; and that Alexander Cartwright, Adams’ teammate with the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club of Manhattan, codified the game while playing baseball at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

But a roar of protest has risen from the grandstand of Baseball America in recent years. 

Historians and enthusiasts hope to set the record straight in a sport that cherishes tradition more than any other but has had its own origin story wrong for many years.

The New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club, an important pioneer in the early days of baseball. Doc Adams, the "true father of baseball," is in the front row, second from left. 

The New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club, an important pioneer in the early days of baseball. Doc Adams, the “true father of baseball,” is in the front row, second from left.  (Public Domain)

They want Doc Adams given his due by baseball officials and the American public as the most formative figure in the early days of baseball. 

And they want him given a long overdue place of honor in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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“Abner Doubleday, Santa Claus and Dracula are equally mythic figures,” Thorn has said in the past, confirming his faith in the clever barb for Fox News Digital.

Doubleday Field at Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is dubbed “The Home of Baseball.”

Cartwright, meanwhile, is called “The Father of Modern Base Ball” on his Hall of Fame plaque. It credits Cartwright with the standards of the game we know today: bases 90 feet apart, nine innings per game and nine men per team.

Major General Abner Doubleday poses for a portrait in the Brady Photo Studios in Washington, D.C., in 1862. For years Doubleday has been given credit as the inventor of baseball. John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, calls Doubleday's role in baseball a myth.

Major General Abner Doubleday poses for a portrait in the Brady Photo Studios in Washington, D.C., in 1862. For years Doubleday has been given credit as the inventor of baseball. John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, calls Doubleday’s role in baseball a myth. (Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

“Everything credited to Cartwright on his Hall of Fame plaque should instead by credited to Doc Adams,” baseball historian Roger Ratzenberger, publisher of DocAdamsBaseball.org, told Fox News Digital.

‘Exercise and good fellowship’

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams was born on Nov. 1, 1814 in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, to Daniel and Nancy (Mulliken) Adams.

The elder Adams was a renowned physician, first in Massachusetts, then New Hampshire. He was a local politician, author and textbook writer whose works were used in classrooms for decades.

Doc Adams was born in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, on Nov. 1, 1814. The town only in recent years erected a sign acknowledging that its hometown son played a crucial role in the creation of baseball. 

Doc Adams was born in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, on Nov. 1, 1814. The town only in recent years erected a sign acknowledging that its hometown son played a crucial role in the creation of baseball.  (Roger Ratzenberger/DocAdamsBaseball.org)

Doc Adams attended college at Amherst and Yale, then medical school at Harvard. He looked to make his name in Gotham, arriving in New York City in 1839 or 1840. 

Baseball clubs by the early 1840s had played various forms of the game informally among themselves for several years. 

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“Its primary objectives were exercise and good fellowship,” baseball authority Eric Miklich writes on 19Cbaseball.com, his detailed compendium of the early days of the game.

Different clubs might play by different rules, while different cities had various versions of the game. “Town ball” in Philadelphia differed from “base ball” in New York, for example.

Doc Adams joined the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club. 

Marjorie Adams is the great-granddaughter of Daniel "Doc" Adams, dubbed by some "true father of baseball." She was critical in raising awareness of his role in shaping American sports history after his influence was lost over time.

Marjorie Adams is the great-granddaughter of Daniel “Doc” Adams, dubbed by some “true father of baseball.” She was critical in raising awareness of his role in shaping American sports history after his influence was lost over time. (Roger Ratzenberger/DocAdamsBaseball.org)

“The players included merchants, lawyers, Union Bank clerks, insurance clerks and others who were at liberty after 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Adams told The Sporting News in an 1896 interview at age 81. 

“They went into it just for exercise and enjoyment, and I think they used to get a good deal more solid fun out of it than the players in the big games do nowadays.”

“Players included merchants, lawyers, Union Bank clerks, insurance clerks and others who were at liberty after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.” — Doc Adams

He soon became one of its leading figures on the field and in the office. 

He created a new position called shortstop in 1849 or 1850 — the position first devised to aid relay throws from the outfield; and soon became president of the Knickerbockers.

“The early Knickerbocker ball was so light that it could not be thrown even 200 feet,” Thorn wrote for the Society of American Baseball Research, “thus the need for a short fielder to send the ball in to the pitcher’s point.”

The Red Stocking Baseball Club of Cincinnati Ohio poses for a team photo in a studio in 1869, which was issued as a trade card. The Red Stocking, the first professional baseball team, and the first college football game, both emerged in 1869. They were part of a post-Civil war obsession in America with sports as entertainment. 

The Red Stocking Baseball Club of Cincinnati Ohio poses for a team photo in a studio in 1869, which was issued as a trade card. The Red Stocking, the first professional baseball team, and the first college football game, both emerged in 1869. They were part of a post-Civil war obsession in America with sports as entertainment.  (Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

Adams took it upon himself to make better baseballs by hand. And he oversaw the birth of the baseball bat industry. 

“We had a great deal of trouble in getting balls made, and for six or seven years I made all the balls myself, not only for our club but also for other clubs when they were organized,” Adams told The Sporting News.

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“Finally I found a Scotch saddler who was able to show me a good way to cover the balls with horsehide, such as was used for whip lashes. I used to make the stuffing out of three or four ounces of rubber cuttings, wound with yarn and then covered with the leather. It was not until some time after 1858 that a shoemaker was found who was willing to make them for us. This was the beginning of base ball manufacturing.”

He added, “It was equally difficult to get good bats made, for no one knew any more about making bats than balls. The bats had to be turned under my personal supervision.”

The $3.26 million ‘Magna Carta of Baseball’

The foundation of modern baseball was laid in January and February 1857, in a national convention of baseball players at Smith’s Hotel, 462 Broome Street, in what’s now the SoHo section of Manhattan.

Doc Adams presided over the convention.

Under his leadership, the conference emerged with uniform new rules as the recreational game grew into a larger and increasingly competitive sport.

"The Magna Carta of Baseball" is shown here. The modern rules of baseball were set down at a convention in New York City in 1857, presided over by Daniel "Doc" Adams. His handwritten copy of the "Laws of Base Ball" netted $3.26 million at auction in 2016. 

“The Magna Carta of Baseball” is shown here. The modern rules of baseball were set down at a convention in New York City in 1857, presided over by Daniel “Doc” Adams. His handwritten copy of the “Laws of Base Ball” netted $3.26 million at auction in 2016.  (Hayden J. Trubitt)

The 1857 convention gave us the major framework we recognize as baseball today: These include nine innings per game, nine players per side and 90 feet between base paths.

These “Laws of Base Ball,” handwritten by Doc Adams, emerged in recent years and hit the auction block in 2016. 

They were purchased by Hayden Trubitt, an attorney with Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth in Newport Beach, California, for a cool $3.26 million. 

He mortgaged his house to help fund the purchase of what Thorn called the “Magna Carta of Baseball.”

Adams holds a special place in the American sports pantheon.

Trubitt knew little about Doc Adams at the time. He knew only that the documents were important, and that they fulfilled his passions for baseball, law and history. 

He’s since come to realize that Adams holds a special place in the American sports pantheon — by following the arc of the rules conventions through the handwriting of its president.

The meeting “was like the U.S. Constitutional Convention,” Trubitt told Fox News Digital. 

“It was a beautiful expression of American government sensibilities.”

Hayden J. Trubitt, an attorney with Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth in Newport Beach, California, purchased Doc Adams' handwritten 1857 "Laws of Base Ball" for $3.26 million in 2016. The documents were dubbed "The Magna Carta of Baseball" by Major League Baseball historian John Thorn. 

Hayden J. Trubitt, an attorney with Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth in Newport Beach, California, purchased Doc Adams’ handwritten 1857 “Laws of Base Ball” for $3.26 million in 2016. The documents were dubbed “The Magna Carta of Baseball” by Major League Baseball historian John Thorn.  (Steven Trubitt)

“The ‘Laws of Base Ball’ is a document of unparalleled importance in the history of America’s National Pastime,” SCP Auctions’ Vice President Dan Imler said in a statement after its sale. 

“This [$3.26 million] figure represents not only the highest price ever paid for a baseball document, but the third-highest price ever for any piece of sports memorabilia.”

“This [$3.26 million] figure represents the highest price ever paid for a baseball document.” — SCP Auctions

“With the rules better defined and with the success of the 1857 convention, the game became increasingly popular. Subsequent conventions attracted more teams,” writes Miklich. 

“The Civil War caused membership to decrease but helped introduce the game to southern parts of the United States. The membership of the National Association of Base Ball Players increased to more than 300 members in 1867.”

The Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team, formed in 1869.

The National Convention of Base Ball Clubs was held at Smith's Hotel, 462 Broome Street, in what's now the SoHo section of Manhattan in the early weeks of 1857. The convention, presided over by Daniel "Doc" Adams, set down the "Laws of Base Ball" still known today, including nine innings per game, nine men per side and 90 feet between bases. The current building on the site was built in 1900. There is nothing to mark the address as the location of a momentous event in American sports history. 

The National Convention of Base Ball Clubs was held at Smith’s Hotel, 462 Broome Street, in what’s now the SoHo section of Manhattan in the early weeks of 1857. The convention, presided over by Daniel “Doc” Adams, set down the “Laws of Base Ball” still known today, including nine innings per game, nine men per side and 90 feet between bases. The current building on the site was built in 1900. There is nothing to mark the address as the location of a momentous event in American sports history.  (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News Digital)

The National League — the same “senior circuit” that still competes today — was founded in 1876. The American League was formed in 1901. 

The first World Series between the competing leagues ensued in 1903. Baseball was off and running, played by the rules Adams set down, played with equipment he pioneered, with his hands touching every aspect of the sport.

He was the first umpire to call balls and strikes in competitive baseball.

Adams authored another baseball first in 1858, the year after the rules convention. Now well into his 40s, he officiated the first all-star game series in Queens, New York, where he was the first umpire to call balls and strikes in competitive baseball. 

‘We played until it was too dark to see’

Dr. Daniel Lucius Adams died on January 3, 1899, in New Haven, Connecticut. He was 84 years old.

He’s buried today in Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, beneath a stone in which the letters have grown worn and muddled, as if his name is being lost to history. 

The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was formed in 1842 by members of the earlier (founded 1837) Gotham Club and wrote down the first rules of the game in 1845. Front row, from left, Duncan Curry, Daniel "Doc" Adams — considered by many the true "father of baseball" — and Henry Tiebout. Back row, from left, Alfred Cartwright, Alexander Cartwright, remembered in baseball lore for recording baseball’s first rules, and William Wheaton. 

The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was formed in 1842 by members of the earlier (founded 1837) Gotham Club and wrote down the first rules of the game in 1845. Front row, from left, Duncan Curry, Daniel “Doc” Adams — considered by many the true “father of baseball” — and Henry Tiebout. Back row, from left, Alfred Cartwright, Alexander Cartwright, remembered in baseball lore for recording baseball’s first rules, and William Wheaton.  (Public Domain, courtesy Eric Miklich)

Perhaps the neglected memorial soon will get the same renewed attention as the man himself.

His star began to shine again through the research uncovered by Thorn, and by the dogged work by Doc Adams’ great-granddaughter, Marjorie Adams, now deceased, to revive his contribution to the game. 

“Free from all restraint, and throwing off our coats we played until it was too dark to see any longer.” — Doc Adams

The nation’s longest-running vintage baseball tournament was renamed the Doc Adams Old Time Baseball Tournament in 2015. It’s held each summer in Bethpage, New York.

Adams enthusiasts now hope he’ll get his long-overdue plaque at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

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The Early Baseball Era Committee of the Hall of Fame meets every three years. 

Adams was on their 2016 ballot right before his Laws of Base Ball were discovered early that year. He missed induction by two votes. 

His next opportunity to be inducted into the Hall of Fame comes in December 2024, when the committee votes on its 2025 inductees. 

The Canton Cornshuckers pose for a photo during the 25th Annual Doc Adams Old Time Base Ball Festival at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on August 7, 2022, in Old Bethpage, New York. The event is named for important but largely forgotten baseball pioneer Daniel "Doc" Adams.

The Canton Cornshuckers pose for a photo during the 25th Annual Doc Adams Old Time Base Ball Festival at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on August 7, 2022, in Old Bethpage, New York. The event is named for important but largely forgotten baseball pioneer Daniel “Doc” Adams. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Hall of Fame or not, Adam’s greatest contribution may be instilling a nation with a love for the sport he fathered and is now cherished as the National Pastime.

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“Our playground was the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, a beautiful spot at that time, overlooking the Hudson, and reached by a pleasant path along the cliff,” Adams told The Sporting News in 1896.

“Once there we were free from all restraint, and throwing off our coats we played until it was too dark to see any longer.”

To read more stories in this unique “Meet the American Who…” series from Fox News Digital, click here.

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