Grave Story: Jimmy Adair (1907-1982)

Here lies Jimmy Adair, who spent almost 50 years in professional baseball as a player, coach and scout. His major-league playing career was limited to 18 games spent with the Chicago Cubs in 1931.

James Audrey Adair was born in Waxahachie, Texas on January 25, 1907. Yes, Audrey. Hecklers had a field day with that later in his career. Adair was tall (5’10) and thin (154 pounds) and was said to be the antithesis of a typical Texan. He wore cowboy boots, but he smoked a pipe instead of chewed tobacco and didn’t care for Western movies.

Adair started playing professional ball in 1927 in various leagues in Texas. Within a couple of seasons, he had established himself as a .300+ hitter who had a little pop in his bat as well good speed on the basepaths. In 1931, he moved to the Reading Keystone of the International League. The Keystones new manager, Clarence “Pants” Rowland,” picked him up from Denver of the Western League and immediately sold him to the Cubs to use later in the season. Adair hit .285 with a .407 slugging percentage with Reading. He had a particularly great slugging percentage against Buffalo Bisons pitcher Alex Ferguson’s face.

The Keystones beat the Bisons 10-7 on August 8, 1931. Adair went 3-for-3 with a double and home run, driving in 2 runs and scoring twice. In the 7th inning, Adair came up to bat for the second time that inning, facing Ferguson. Maybe it was because of Adair’s performance to that point, or maybe it was because Adair won the game the day before by stealing home, but Ferguson fired eight straight pitches at Adait’s head. Think that would fly in today’s game? Adair managed to foul a few off out of self-defense, but after the eighth pitch, he charged the mound and landed a few shots of his own on the pitcher’s head. Police had to be called in to break up the melee, and Adair was ejected.

The Cubs’ brand-new double-play combination, Billy Herman and Jimmy Adair. Source: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 31, 1931.

The Cubs called the 24-year-old up to the majors in 1931 at the end of August. They put him at shortstop and paired him with another rookie, second baseman Billy Herman, who was called up from Louisville. They faced the tall order of replacing Rogers Hornsby and Woody English as the double-play combination. Player-manager Hornsby, 35, had pulled a leg muscle and benched himself, and English moved to third base.

Adair was put into the leadoff position and right off the bat played doubleheaders each day from August 24-27. That’s 8 games – 75 innings, counting a 12-inning game, in four days. Adair’s batting average was a meager .167 by the time that was over. He was moved down in the lineup in September and turned things around, ending up with a .276 batting average. Unfortunately, the Cubs lost 13 of his 18 games, so when Hornsby was well enough to get back into the lineup, Adair’s playing time came to an end.

Adair’s knocked 21 hits in his 18 games, with 3 doubles and a triple. He drove in 3 runs and scored 9 times. His .948 fielding percentage was a little lower than league average, but he did take part in 9 double plays.

Jimmy Adair played in the minor leagues until 1944, when he was 37 years old. He ended up with 1,928 hits in the minors with 62 home runs. He began working as a player-manager in 1941 with the Helena Seaporters. He led Savannah to the Sally League championship in 1942 and the San Francisco Seals to the Pacific Coast League championship in 1944. He managed the San Antonio Missions in 1946-47 and the Dallas Eagles in 1948-9 to mention just a few of his other stops. He managed through 1955 for a total of 11 seasons in the minors.

When he wasn’t managing in the minors, he was back in the major leagues as a coach. Adair hooked up with Paul Richards, a high school friend and former teammate on a Waxahachie High School baseball team that once won 80 games in a row. Richards served as manager and employed Adair as one of his coaches with the Chicago White Sox (1951-2). Adair was a third base coach originally but struggled in the role, sending a couple of runners when he shouldn’t have and costing the Sox some key runs. He was dismissed in October 1952 and returned to managing in the minors. He reunited with Richards as part of his coaching staffs for the Baltimore Orioles (1957-1961) and Houston Colt .45s (1962-5). Adair was also a scout for the Athletics and Royals until retiring in 1976.

Adair was in poor health in his final years. In a March 1981 interview, Richards said that Adair was confined to his room.  Jimmy Adair suffered a heart attack and died on Dec. 9, 1982 at the Brookhaven Medical Center in Dallas. He was 75 years old. He is interred at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas. Adair was posthumously inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990. His son Steve was a coach for the Southern Methodist University baseball team in the 1970s.

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