Marjorie Adams, Who Went to Bat for a Baseball Pioneer, Dies at 72

Marjorie Adams, who tirelessly promoted the candidacy of her great-grandfather Daniel Adams, a 19th-century founding father of baseball,...


Marjorie Adams, who tirelessly promoted the candidacy of her great-grandfather Daniel Adams, a 19th-century founding father of baseball, for the Baseball Hall of Fame, died on July 7 in a hospice in Branford, Conn. She was 72.

The cause was lung cancer, her nephew Nate Downey said.

Making the case for her great-grandfather, who was known as Doc (he came by his nickname legitimately, having received a medical degree from Harvard in 1838), became Ms. Adams’s consuming passion. She advocated for him on a website, at conferences, at meetings of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and at vintage baseball festivals, where fans play and celebrate the sport, as if it were the 19th century. She nicknamed herself Cranky, for “cranks,” a period term for fans.

“Baseball is the national pastime,” she said in an interview in 2014 with SABR’s Smoky Joe Wood chapter. “It’s important that the historical record is correct.”

That record was a lie for a long time, according to John Thorn, baseball’s official historian. Abner Doubleday was for many years falsely cited as baseball’s inventor. And Alexander Cartwright, who played a role in the sport’s evolution, was credited on his plaque at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with some of the innovations that, it turned out, were actually conceived by Adams.

In the 1990s, an article about Adams by Mr. Thorn in Elysian Fields Quarterly, a baseball journal, helped Ms. Adams see her great-grandfather as a significant figure — and not only as “Daniel, the baseball guy,” as he was known in the Adams family.

Doc Adams began playing for the pioneering New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club in 1845. While with the team, he created the shortstop position — as a relay man from the outfield, not a fielder of ground balls and pop flies. He made his most critical contributions to the game in 1857 at a rule-making convention of which he was chairman.

There he codified some of the fundamentals of the modern game, setting the distance between bases at 90 feet, the length of a game at nine innings and the number of men per side at nine.

Still, Adams remained obscure to anyone unfamiliar with baseball’s early history. In 2015, as Ms. Adams continued her campaign to raise her great-grandfather’s profile, Mr. Thorn presented materials about Adams to a member of the Hall of Fame’s pre-integration-era committee, which voted on inducting players, managers, umpires and executives from the time of baseball’s origins to 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Adams was put on the committee’s ballot with nine other candidates.

Awaiting the vote that December, Ms. Adams told MLB.com: “All I do, the first thing when I wake up, is think, “What’s my next step to help Doc?’ I’m always talking about Doc. You can’t stop me.” She added: “As Babe Ruth said, ‘You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.’ I say that to myself 50 times a day.”

Marjorie Putnam Adams was born on Dec. 7, 1948, in Manhattan. Her father, Daniel Putnam Adams, was a banker, and her mother, Adelaide (Barkley) Adams, was a homemaker. After graduating from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., she began a career as a saleswoman and interior designer at furniture stores in Manhattan and Connecticut.

Researching her great-grandfather’s baseball career — an effort that included several visits to Cooperstown — had a natural appeal to Ms. Adams.

“I’m not an athlete,” she told SABR. “I’m a book person, a history geek.” Doc Adams’s election to the Hall, she said, would be “the moment of my life.”

Her tenacity at promoting her great-grandfather’s Hall-worthiness was such that she once printed out cards that said, “Doc Adams: The True Father of Baseball.” She handed them out to strangers and struck up conversations with them about him.

“Then she wanted to be fair and honest and printed up cards that said, ‘One of the True Fathers of Baseball,’” Mr. Downey said by phone. “She made me throw out the earlier ones.”

Adams was nearly elected when the pre-integration era committee voted in December 2015. He received 10 votes, more than any other candidate but two short of the required 12.

“She was very disappointed,” said Roger Ratzenberger, a member of SABR’s 19th-century research committee who helped Ms. Adams with her campaign. “I talked to her that night and told her, ‘Look at the difference now: Tonight on all the news channels, they’re talking about Doc Adams.’ That’s what her thing was — to get attention for him.’”

A few months later, Ms. Adams found renewed reason for hope: documentary proof of Doc Adams’s role in baseball history came up for auction. Three surviving pages of “Laws of Baseball,” which were written by Adams and provided a physical record of his rule-making at the 1857 convention, sold for $3.26 million.

Ms. Adams, who is survived by a sister, Nancy Adams Downey, believed that the “Laws” would get her great-grandfather elected to the Hall at the pre-integration committee’s next scheduled meeting, in 2018. But in July 2016, the Hall restructured the panel, renamed it the early baseball era committee and postponed its vote until this December.

“It’s a pity she couldn’t hang on,” Mr. Thorn said by phone, “because her great-grandfather’s day is coming.”

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