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By Peter J. Nash

Sept. 16, 2011

Gary "Pops" O'Maxfield presents Marjorie Adams a symbolic "Nestor of Ball Players" document at The Hartford Base Ball Grounds at Colt Meadows on Doc Adams Day, September 10, 2011.(Photo by Karen O'Maxfield)


Earlier this week, the SABR website linked an article from the The Hartford Courant about a ceremony that took place in Hartford honoring baseball pioneer, Daniel LuciusDoc” Adams, of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.

Descendants of Adams attended the “Doc Adams Day” ceremony and one of them, Marjorie Adams, of Mystic, was presented with a framed scroll honoring her great grandfather for his contributions to the game. But the article also mentioned a tid-bit that caught our eye and deserves some further investigation related to the thefts of early Knickerbocker materials from the New York Public Library and the National Baseball Library.

The Courant’s Dom Amore wrote:

 When he retired, the Knickerbockers presented him with an elaborate scroll, naming him “The Nestor of Ball Players.” Nestor, in Greek mythology, was a wise, old warrior. Adams’ family said the original scroll was given to Yale in the 1950s, where it was lost.

John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball discovered the Adams collection in 2006 while searching in the “Orbis Catalogue” of Yale University and the Beinecke Library.  Thorn, in an interview yesterday, described how he found documents related to the Knick pioneer, “On a lark, as I knew Doc was a Yale grad, then following up with correspondence to determine the contents of the folders they had for Adams’ father, also a Yale graduate, and a noted scholar and author.”  Thorn’s search ultimately uncovered several documents he utilized in Baseball in the Garden of Eden.  Says Thorn:

 ” Most of the Doc Adams correspondence related to his collegiate experience from 1833 to 1835 with letters of admonition from father to son (study harder, spend less….the usual). There were, however, a couple of other much later letters to Doc Adams that were great- one from James Whyte Davis (quoted, in part, in Eden), another from Henry Chadwick (also quoted in part in Eden), and a third from Henry A. Thomas, Louis J. Belloni Jr., and W. H. Tucker.  Looking at this last named letter again I see that is certainly the letter that accompanied the scroll!” 

John Thorn discovered this 1863 letter in the Yale library. The letter was sent by the Knickerbockers to "Doc" Adams along with the scroll calling him the "Nestor of Ball-Players." (From Yale University Library)

 At the time, Thorn had no idea that the scroll was allegedly donated to Yale by the Adams family.  Thorn had first learned about the scroll decades earlier, researching at the New York Public Library where Thorn says, “It was referred to in Roger Cook Adams’ 1939 memoir, which I had read thirty years ago at the Fifth Avenue Branch.”

 In his new book Baseball in the Garden of Eden, Thorn states that the Knickerbocker Club archives were maintained by Adams’ teammate James Whyte Davis after the club disbanded in 1882. Then, Thorn says, towards the end of his life Davis passed on the archive to Henry Chadwick who, in turn, bequeathed the archive to Albert Spalding.  Spalding’s widow donated the archive to NYPL in 1921 including the club’s correspondence, game-books, meeting-books and rule books and by-laws.  The Spalding Collection, however, has been compromised by theft and vandalism and many Knickerbocker documents, score-sheets and pamphlets are currently missing from the archive.

Some of the remaining NYPL documents were actually drafted by “Doc” Adams and are still featured in the Knickerbocker Correspondence Scrapbooks.  A few of them illustrate Adams’ talent as an expert ball-maker who supplied baseballs to the club for match play from the 1840s to 1860s.  

Based upon the documents John Thorn discovered in Yale’s collection, it appears that the “Doc” Adams archive may have eluded the baseball thieves who preyed upon the Spalding Collection.  The only item claimed to be missing from Yale appears to be the 1863 scroll, and even that is in dispute.

According to Dom Amore, of the Hartford Courant, the Adams family says the scroll was donated to Yale in the 1950s, however, he also said officials at Yale deny that they ever received the Adams resolution on the 1863 scroll.  Amore told us, “Family thinks Yale lost it.”


This 1861 receipt was drafted in the hand of "Doc" Adams documenting the sale of four of his hand-made baseballs for $5.00 to the Knickerbocker Ball Club. The document appears in NYPL's Knickerbocker Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1. (Courtesy NYPL, Spalding Collection)

 Doc Adams’ great granddaughter, Marjorie Adams, has been trying to get Yale to locate the scroll for years .  “My grandfather donated the scroll to Yale sometime in the 1950s and much later, sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, my  father wanted to have the scroll professionally photographed.  But Yale could not locate it.  We’ve been searching for it ever since.”

Knickerbocker-related artifacts have been popular on baseball’s black market over the past thirty years and items tied to Knick pioneers and Baseball Hall of Famers Alexander J. Cartwright Jr. and Harry Wright have been the most popular amongst thieves. 

 Autographed Cartwright documents  have disappeared from the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Archives of Hawaii and Harry Wright’s resignation letter to the Knicks was excised out of an NYPL scrapbook.  But unlike those items, its not definitive that the the “Doc” Adams scroll has been stolen.  It still could have been misplaced in the Yale archives.

Considering the fact that Yale’s Adams collection still includes extremely significant artifacts like Adams’ original Knick rule books and club by-laws, it is unlikely that the disappearance of the scroll is tied to the Knickerbocker thefts at the NYPL and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The only surviving image of "Doc" Adams' Knickerbocker scroll is this photostat copy in the possession of an Adams relative.

The only tangible evidence of the scroll’s  existence is an old photostat copy of the ornate document that is in the possession of Marjorie Adams’ sister.  That copy of the lost scroll was displayed in public at the Adams ceremony in Hartford.

Adams recently made a formal request to Yale to produce the scroll and she recieved a disappointing response from Yale archivist, William R. Massa Jr.  Massa wrote to her in an email on June 28th, “Unfortunately I have not found any reference to the scroll that was presented to Daniel L. Adams upon his retirement from baseball in 1862.”  

Marjorie Adams says Yale will have to respond to additional inquiries from the Adams family and address why they still have the letter that accompanied the scroll in their collection, but not the scroll itself.

We contacted Massa, the library’s Head of Collection Development, at his Yale office to inquire about what efforts are being made to find the scroll and whether official accession records of the original Adams donation exist.  Massa told us he was “unable to comment.”

Marjorie Adams is discouraged but still hopeful that the historic scroll will someday turn up.  “It’s just such a shame, the Adams family has a long history at Yale dating back to my great-great grandfather.  I just wish Yale would keep better care of things that are donated by alumni and have better security.”      

For now, “Doc” Adams’ 1863 ”Nestor of Ball-Players” scroll joins an infamous list of  Knickerbocker relics currently missing in action.  

(In the near future, will publish a related, in-depth, investigative report:  The Knickerbocker Heist at the NYPL).

(Correction:  Marjorie Adams informed us that Karen O’Maxfield contacted Yale on her behalf and inquired about the missing 1863 Scroll.  The email from Yale’s William R. Massa Jr. was sent to Karen O’Maxfield.)


1 Comment

  1. Help put Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Time is running short. I’d like to ask you to take a few minutes to support a petition that will hopefully lead to the recognition of Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams as a pioneer of the game of baseball through enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s about time that baseball honored those that helped develop and nurture the game rather than perpetuate myths and half truths.

    Please take a few minutes and check out and “sign” the petition and feel free to share it with your friends and family.

    Thanks for your time and support.

    Comment by Roger Ratzenberger — July 21, 2012 @ 7:56 am

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