Written by Libby Henderson, granddaughter of Charles "Babe" Adams June, 2014
“Strike three! You’re out!”…a commonly heard phrase from the umpire at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball games when “Babe Adams” was on the mound. Charles Benjamin Adams, famed for his pitching prowess, was an American sports hero beyond compare. Not only was he an accomplished pitcher, but even more importantly, he was a genuine gentleman. His great success with the Pittsburgh Pirates led to his nationwide fame. From a small town in southern Indiana, to northwestern Missouri, to the suburbs of Washington DC, he was known for his athleticism, humility, honesty, and pinpoint accuracy.
EARLY LIFE Charles was born in a tiny log house in Moorefield, Switzerland County, Indiana, on May 18, 1882. The family moved to Tipton, Indiana when he was one year old. Charley, as he was called as a youth, was known for his athleticism, competitiveness, and accuracy even as a youngster. As the eighth child of a brood of a dozen, he was born to Nancy Jane Tower Adams and Samuel Adams. Father Samuel was a hard-working sharecropper/farmer and fiddle player and Mother Nancy Jane was a typical farm wife of the time period....strong and capable. With so many children in the family, Charley would go missing sometimes – he liked to tell this story to show how his competitive spirit began as a youngster. Often he would play hide-and-seek with his brothers and sisters. Charley’s favorite place to hide was down in an old well. He knew how to climb out, but was just stubborn enough not to come out when his older brother would call him for supper. The family had dinner, and nobody noticed he was missing! He stayed down the well until it was dark. Finally giving up, he climbed out, walked home, and told his brothers that he won the game because nobody ever found him!
Also as a youngster, Charley almost had his little finger cut off. One of his older sisters was chopping wood and he put his hand on the block to help her steady the log. Down came the axe and his finger was severed, almost all the way through. It was always bent and shining smooth at the first joint; he attributed this accident to the reason he threw right handed – because everything else he did was left-handed. If you think about it, learning to and mastering how to throw a baseball with such accuracy with his non-dominant hand was a truly athletic feat.
In Tipton he played ball with local boys of all ages, imitating the baseball heroes of the day such as Christy Matthewson, Honus Wagner and Cy Young. The family moved to Mount Moriah, Missouri, in early March, 1898 when Charley was sixteen years old. His first experiences with organized baseball were in Mt. Moriah with the farm team there. His teammates saw his accuracy and asked him to pitch. Charley practiced his accuracy hunting with a shotgun or bow hunting, as well as using dornicks (baseball sized rocks) that he flung at a knot in side of his father’s barn. He was discovered by Fred Coffman, the village barber. There also he practiced and mastered the art of the curve ball and fastball.
PROFESSIONAL LIFE While Charley was trying to break in to the major leagues, he played for several farm teams. He began his pitching career in baseball in 1904 with Parsons, Kansas. The manager saw Charley pitch at Spickard and Ridgeway (small towns in Missouri), and told him they were organizing a new league (Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma) called the “Missouri Valley League.” The manager asked Charley down to Parsons to try out. Charley was earning $5.00 per game at Ridgeway but had aspirations of a professional career. During batting practice one day, Charley was wearing his red wool (velvet) uniform that had been made for him by a local seamstress. A fellow player got called up to try out, and Charley noticed that he didn’t have any kind of uniform. He gave his own uniform to Drummond Brown, later with the Boston Nationals, a catcher and first baseman. Drummond kept it for two weeks, saying it ‘brought him luck!’ Later Charley donned the red uniform again, and tried his hand at pitching practice. Turns out, after he threw a few at batting practice, nobody would come up to hit. He threw so fast and hard, the players were afraid. The coach told Charley, “not so fast!” to which Charley just laughed. Charley pitched the first game for Parsons against Fort Scott, Kansas. He won that first game, 5-0, struck out eighteen, and gave just one hit. He played for Parsons all season (1905).
The following year (1906) he went to the St. Louis Cardinals for a half a season, then Louisville for two weeks, then to Denver for all of 1907. He travelled to Pittsburgh in the fall of 1907, then back to Louisville. Pittsburgh had given him a contract for $1500.00 per season, but he fought for $2500.00 and was awarded that back in Louisville. He had a winning season in Louisville.
Pittsburgh called him up early in 1909 for the same salary as Louisville. His first game for the Pirates was in Chicago’s old west-end park, where he beat Mordicai Brown 1-0 in eleven innings. During another early season game, several young women in the stands decided he was handsome and had a baby face. They called out “Oh You Babe!” as he came out to the mound. Of course, Charley was embarrassed and turned red. His teammates teased him relentlessly and gave him the moniker “Babe” just to continue the banter. The nickname stuck. He was the original “Babe” even before the more famous Babe Ruth.
The rest of the season was winning, and of course, the Pirates went all the way to the World Series, and won with rookie “Babe’s” help. The Babe pitched in the first, fifth, and seventh game of the World Series against Detroit. How would a rookie get tapped as the starting pitcher of the first game of a World Series against the Tigers? The coach thought Charley’s style was a lot like another pitcher who had beaten Ty Cobb several times. Coach/player Fred Clarke had a plan – to try the rookie to start against the great “Georgia Peach.” He not only won the opening game, but returned in games five and seven to also win. Being a rookie and playing (and winning!) three complete games in a World Series was a huge record that is still unbroken. Charley still holds this record today. As this was the Dead Ball Era, most games were low-scoring… but "Babe" was in for twenty-seven innings, allowing only eighteen hits and five runs during that series. This was the time when hitters such as Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb were in their prime. Charley held Ty Cobb to three hits in eleven at bats, with three strike outs in the series.
During the off season that year (early 1910) he was quoted in Baseball Magazine to have said: "Pitching is an art only perfected by constant practice. It cannot be learned in a day. There must be perfect harmony between the pitcher and catcher." - Babe Adams in Baseball Magazine (February 1910, Orel R. Geyer)
Charley pitched a twenty-one-inning game on May 14, 1914 against the New York Giants, and didn't give a walk. Yes, the ENTIRE twenty-one innings....unheard of today! He also pitched thirty-three consecutive innings without issuing a base-on-balls. He was noted for his control pitching, which has seldom been equaled.
He continued to pitch, through a couple of injuries. In 1917 Charley was sent back to farm leagues to recover his arm. But, ever the hard-worker with power and tenacity, he came back strong. In 1919, he won seventeen and lost ten for Pittsburgh....and for a second time in his long career he was a baseball hero. Accolades for his longevity and for his power and accuracy in pitching earned him national fame. With his help, the Pirates made it to another world series in 1925, in which he pitched against the Washington Senators.
Twelve years after the 1909 World Series, Babe Ruth was quoted in the newspaper. Here is an excerpt: (I would love to give credit for this article but it was cut out of a larger article by my grandmother in 1921 and I have no idea where it was from – but I do know the quote was actually from Babe Ruth himself.) “After we played an exhibition game at Forbes Field this spring I heard a fan remark, ‘Wouldn’t it be great stuff to have the Pirates and the Babe hook up in the world series?’ He happened to refer to me, but I wanted to say that Pittsburgh has fortunately been hooked up to “the” Babe for many seasons. And I take my cap off to Charles B. Adams, the original baseball Babe.” -George Herman Ruth
In honor of the Babe’s 40th birthday, the fans and team gave him a huge party. They called it “Babe Adams Day 1923” at Forbes Field. The party was a surprise to him … and he was incredibly flattered and honored by the gesture. He didn’t want people making a big fuss over him. He was generally reserved and quiet - but did allow an interview during the festivities. When he was asked what his secret was to longevity in the league, he said, “I always take things easy, and I never worry.” At the party he was given a Sterns-Knight limousine, which was ceremoniously ‘towed’ out onto the field by his daughters who were five and seven years old, a forty-pound birthday cake, and a shotgun for his off season of hunting. The Sterns-Knight later went home to Mount Moriah and became the Babe’s “Sunday Go To Meeting” car. It was almost ruined when the creek ‘got out’ one spring. Charley was driving it home from town, and thought he could make it across the river which normally was low enough to ford. It rose so quickly that Charley got stuck; as dusk fell, and the water rose, he climbed up on the hood then on the roof as water flooded into the car. He was sitting on the roof, smoking a cigar in the dark, hoping for someone to come along and give him a tow.
A neighbor came along and even from a distance he “knew it was Charley by the red glow of the tip of his cigar” and towed him out. The car’s interior was ruined, but they got it running again. The shotgun was used for years for hunting in and around his Mount Moriah farm and is still in good working condition.
Once more, the Pirates were rolling toward a championship in 1925. Babe was not showing any signs of slowing down-- he was determined not to let his age get him yet. He pitched in thirty-three games during the season. He pitched sixteen road games and seventeen home games for a total of 101 innings and walked only seventeen batters and threw no wild pitches. Actually, he was the only member of the team in 1925 who was also on the winning 1909 team. The Pirates won the World Series in 1925 in seven games.
As winners leading in to the 1926 season, Babe pitched in nineteen games; with his shoulder and pitching arm finally showing fatigue, he and his wife decided together that it would be his last year in the league. Charles “Babe” Adams ended his career in 1926 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he played a total of nineteen years. His last game was on August 11, 1926.
Over the span of his nineteen-year major league career, Adams won 194 games and lost 140. His ERA was 2.76.
PERSONAL LIFE Charles Adams was married on March 2, 1909, to his high school sweetheart Blanche Wright, daughter of George W. and Emza Jane Gray Wright. Blanche was a local girl born in Harrison County, Missouri on November 25, 1887. They met at a dance in the Mount Moriah Town Square where Charley’s father played the fiddle and young ladies and gentlemen danced while their families watched from the storefronts.
Two children were born in Harrison County, Missouri to Charles and Blanche Adams; Mary Elizabeth, (June 16, 1916) and Virginia Lee, (June 21, 1918). Mary Elizabeth married Ralph "Denny" Denham but had no children. Virginia married Harry Martin Henderson, Jr. of Chicago Illinois, on September 9, 1939. They had one child, Libby Henderson.
RETIREMENT & CORRECTIONS Some reports were erroneously made that he managed a minor league team, lost a great deal of investments in a land deal in Florida, and was a foreign war correspondent. None of these are true. The real story: upon retirement from baseball in 1926, he went back home to the farm in Mt. Moriah, suffered through the market crash in 1929 just like all other farmers, and slowly, with hard work and neighborly support, was able to grow a successful farm. He enjoyed farming, hunting, and fishing. He had a home in Bethany, Missouri for a time, as well as the farmstead in Mount Moriah. He raised his family, regaled his friends and neighbors with stories of the ‘big leagues’ and went to most little league and farm league baseball games locally. He taught the art of the curve ball to anyone who wanted to know, including his granddaughter, when he was eighty-five years old!
LATER LIFE and DEATH In 1958 after thirty-two years of farming in Missouri, Charley and Blanche sold the farm and retired to Silver Spring, Maryland to live with their daughter, Mary Elizabeth. Adams died of throat cancer in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1968, at age eighty-six.
His home towns of Mount Moriah and Bethany, Missouri, where he lived for many years, honored his memory posthumously by dedicating a baseball park in his name in the 1970s and in the late 1990s named the highway that runs between Bethany and Mount Moriah (U.S. Route 136) the “Babe Adams Highway”. The town of Bethany also held an annual weekend festival named "The Babe Adams Festival.” A local Scout troop hired a mural artist to paint a mural to honor the Babe in the downtown square of Bethany, Missouri. A photo of it can be found on this website in the “About” section. His election as one of the first members of the Harrison County Hall of Fame meant a great deal to him and he was most proud of that honor.
For more information on the band credited with all the custom written music for this website, see the "about" tab.