Grave Story: Spencer Adams (1898-1970)

Here lies Spencer Adams, an infielder who played for four different teams in his four-year career. Despite his short time in the majors, he managed to appear in two World Series, roomed with Lou Gehrig and was teammates with some of the most famous ballplayers of the era. Adams played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1923), Washington Senators (1925), New York Yankees (1926) and St. Louis Browns (1927).

Spencer Dewey Adams was born in Layton, Utah on June 21, 1898. Normally I don’t look that much into the families of ballplayers, but Adams is an exception, because his family has been in this country before the United States of America was even a thought. Thanks to Find-A-Grave, you can trace the family back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Spencer Adams was one of 7 children of Rufus and Sarah Adams of Layton, Utah. Rufus Adams was a state senator. Rufus’ father, George Washington Adams, was born in Hancock County, Illinois in 1836. His father, Elias Adams Sr., was born in Vermont in 1792, fought in the War of 1812, was married twice, had 15 children and was the one who took the Adamses out West in the first place. His father, Job Adams, was in the Vermont militia during the Revolutionary War. His father, Joel, fought in the French & Indian War and then in the Revolutionary War for the Continentals. His father John was born in Connecticut in 1694, his father Jacob was born in Massachusetts in 1651 and his father Robert was born in England in 1602 and came to the Colonies in the 1620s or ‘30s. And yes, we can go back even further to the early 1500s, and kudos to whoever in the family traced the lineage back that far.

So anyway, the Adams Family has politicians, pioneers, war heroes and influential early colonists, but Spencer Adams played baseball, so let’s focus on the important stuff. Adams was a top athlete in Ogden High School and went to college for a year at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He has the distinction of being the first Ute to ever make it to the majors. First, he had to get through minor-league baseball to get there.

Adams’ pro ball career started in 1921 in Tremonton, Utah, where he played for the Class-D Northern Utah League. In 40 games, he hit a scorching .432, with 28 of his 73 hits going for extra basis (10 doubles, 11 triples, 7 homers). He joined the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League in 1922. While his batting average dropped, his reputation grew. The Indians journeyed to Salt Lake City to play the Bees, and the hometown crowd held a “Spencer Adams Day” in honor of their hometown prospect. When the youngster came to bat for the first time, the game was halted so that Ogden Mayor Frank Francis could present him with a gold watch worth $205.97 — a nice prize in 1922! He was also given several flower bouquets and thanked the hometown crowd by knocking a couple of base hits (and committing a couple of costly fielding errors in the Bees win).

In December 1922, the Pirates made a big trade to land Adams. They sent two players and a player to be named later to pick up his contract. Baseball Reference lists the Bucs sending $15,000 instead of a third player, but either way, it was a haul. Unfortunately for Adams, the Pirates played him in only 25 games, though they seemed to have kept him on the roster the whole year. He played 11 games at second base and 6 games at shortstop. The Bucs had Rabbit Maranville at shortstop and Johnny Rawlings at second, and Adams wasn’t going to replace either one of those good hitters. Furthermore, Adams’ other position, third base, was occupied by Hall of Famer Pie Traynor, so he was stuck as a backup infielder and pinch-runner. He batted .250 in 56 at-bats.

The Pirates recouped some of their costs in acquiring Adams by trading him, three other players and cash to the Oakland Oaks in December 1923. They got back pitcher Ray Kremer, who would win 20 games twice with the Bucs. Adams rebounded nicely with the Oaks, getting 220 hits in 200 games (Pacific Coast League seasons were looooong) for a .273 average. Though the Pirates had the rights to re-sign him, Adams was instead drafted by the Senators in the Rule V draft.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 26, 1925.

Adams played well for the Senators in 1925, though again it was in limited action. He appeared in 39 games, mostly at his natural position of second base, and batted .273. Once again, he was on a team with a really talented infield and was stuck as a backup. He didn’t see much action at all until 2B/manager Bucky Harris suffered a late-season hand injury, and Adams filled in admirably. The Senators finished the season 95-55 and won the AL pennant. They would lose the World Series to Adams’ old team, the Pirates. Harris’ injury had healed, so Adams’ postseason playing time was reduced to 2 games and 1 hitless at-bat.

In the 1926 offseason, the Yankees were trying to pry second baseman Marty McManus away from the St. Louis Browns in a trade. Those talks went nowhere, so the Yankees instead bought out Adams’ contract from the Senators. Adams was originally intended as bait for the Cardinals, but he stuck with the Yankees instead. Not that he got much of a chance to play, as Yankees rookie Tony Lazzeri snatched away the second base job and held onto it for the next decade-plus with the Yankees. Adams was stuck as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner and appeared in 28 games with 28 plate appearances. He hit just .120, with 3 hits and 7 runs scored. He made his second trip to the World Series and appeared in 2 games without an at-bat as the Yankees lost to the Cardinals in 7 games.

The Yankees sent Adams off to the St. Louis Browns in March 1927 in exchange for $5,000. On one hand, it was terrible timing, as he just missed out on being a part of the legendary 1927 Murders’ Row team. Even if he would have sat on the bench for the entire season, he nonetheless could have been a part of history. On the other hand, Adams was finally part of a team that was so terrible that no future Hall of Famers or Hall of Very Gooders were blocking him, and he played in a career-high 88 games. The Browns’ middle infielders had batting averages in the low .220s with no power, so he was in the best position of his pro ball career.

And he took advantage of his time, too. Playing in a career-high 88 games, Adams had a respectable .266/.333/.332 slash line in 1927. Most of his time was at second base, but he also had 28 games at third base. The problem was that his fielding was below average at both positions. That was the downside to his career; he could play anywhere in the infield, but his fielding was sub-par everywhere, and his hitting never was quite good enough to compensate for it. The Browns traded Adams and another player to Milwaukee of the American Association at the end of 1927, ending his time as an MLB player.

For his career, Adams played in 180 games, with 101 hits, 38 RBIs, 61 runs and a .256/.324/.322 slash line. He played in the minor leagues through 1932, primarily with the Nashville Vols of the Southern Association. He had a few good years and even rediscovered his power stroke — he homered 11 times for the Vols in 1929.

Adams played on local teams following his retirement from pro baseball. According to the 1940 census, Adams and his family were living in Layton, Utah, and he was employed as a truck driver in the road work industry for the government. I’m assuming the state of Utah, not federal. When World War II rolled around, he was working for the Ogden Ordinance Depot, per his draft card.

Fifty-eight-year-old Spencer “Sparky” Adams shows off a lifetime of baseball memorabilia. Source: The Ogden Standard Examiner, July 23, 1950.

By the 1960s, Adams was employed at Hill Air Force Base as a millwright and worked on his farm in Layton. He kept his mementos of the game and his famous teammates – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig (his old Yankee roommate), Walter Johnson and Goose Goslin, to name a few. He had a photo of the time he and the rest of his Senators teammates got to meet President Coolidge.

“Baseball is a great game. I loved every minute of it — but it can be tough and a heartbreaker too,” he told The Ogden Standard Examiner in 1950. “A lot of people think baseball is all fun. But I’ve pitched hay from sun up until dark and never been as tired as I’ve been after a real tough baseball game.”

Spencer Adams died in Salt Lake City on November 24, 1970 at the age of 72. He is buried in Kaysville City Cemetery in Kaysville, Utah.


3 thoughts on “Grave Story: Spencer Adams (1898-1970)

  1. That’s my Grandmas Father. My father was the youngest of 7 (as well as the oops baby of the family) so Sparky was long gone before I was born. He taught my father how to play baseball and my father taught me. Every morning I wake up to a framed photo on my wall of him and Babe Ruth. A lot of what you researched I didn’t even know…Thanks for bringing me a little closer to my great-grandpa Sam. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Sam for this information!
    My name is Dan Candland. I live in Seattle, WA. I am a huge baseball fan, ever since I got my first pack of baseball cards when I was 7 in 1977 when the Seattle Mariners became a MLB team.
    I had hoped for years to find someone with my same last name in MLB, but I never could. I collected cards with my older brother and other boys from church, the Harmon brothers and the Cheney brothers. The Harmons and the Cheneys each had players with their last names in MLB and they had cards of those players.
    I eventually had to settle for players with my mom’s maiden name of Cox.
    I became the best player on my Little League teams in Seattle, as a Leadoff Hitter, and Leading not just the team, but the League in Hits, Walks, Batting Average, Fewest Strikeouts, etc.
    I went on to play in High School and after my Church Mission in Wisconsin, I went on to play at Ricks College (shortly before they did away with the sports programs and became BYU-Idaho).
    Just after my mission, when I was home in Seattle, the Church Bookstore came out with a book, “Mormons in the Major Leagues” and I knew that my best chance of being related to anyone in MLB, would be if it was from someone who was a member of the church.
    In this book, it does list “Spencer Adams” but it didn’t have much to say about him and only list 1 Baseball Card for him. I thought that he might be the one that I would most likely be related to, as my Mother and Grandma Cox would talk about being related to the 2nd President of the USA, John Adams.
    As I looked at our lineage, I could see that Abigail Adams’ Father, Grandfather and Great-Grandfather all had the name “Peter Brittan Adams” through the years of John Adams (2nd Pres) and John Quincy Adams (5th Pres). So they were 1st Cousins, as my Grandma would say things like he his your 7th Cousin, once removed. That’s like, 7 up and 1 over on a family tree/pedigree chart.
    I recently thought about doing some research (now that there’s the internet) and it took a lot of searching before I found your website and you listed Spencer Adam’s lineage.
    I seem to recall in my ancestry that Henry Adams that came from England and had 2 sons, John and Joseph. Joseph named one of his sons after his brother (to make things confusing for us, hahaha) and the son of Joseph Adams became the 2nd President. I think that the oldest of the 3 Peter Brittan Adams was also the son of Joseph Adams, because I couldn’t find any John Adams in my lineage.
    But I remember my Grandma saying something like I was 7th Cousins, once removed (that’s 7 up and one over on the family tree/pedigree chart. Maybe my memory is a little off, but it sounds like there is a good chance that we could be cousins and I will have to do some more research.
    This MLB Grave-Site website was super-informative, as I was really surprised to hear that Spencer “Sparky” D. Adams was roommates with Lou Gehrig!
    I was also shocked and well-pleased to hear that Spencer Adams also played for the Seattle Indians Minor League Baseball Team (in the Pacific Coast League) in 1922. He even has a Zeenut Baseball Card, when he was with the Seattle Indians.
    I was super-excited to find your post,
    Dan Candland


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