Legendary Cleveland baseball figure John Adams passes away
by Martin McConnell
To say that Brecksville native John Adams left a permanent mark on Cleveland sports history would still be a gross understatement of what he truly meant to the city.
For nearly 50 years and 3,700 Cleveland Indians/Guardians home games with Adams in the stands, he was one of the only constants.
Adams watched the construction of Jacobs Field, the departure of the original Cleveland Browns, a Cavaliers championship, a name and logo change, a bevy of coaching and regime changes, three American League pennants, and three World Series heartbreaks. Through it all, he and his beating bass drum persisted.
Adams, a Brecksville native, passed away at the age of 71 Jan. 30, following a lengthy health battle. His cause of death has not been disclosed to the public.
“The first Indians game I can remember was in 1999. … Before the game started, my dad walked me up there to talk to him,” said Ethan Forness, a Guardians reporter for the popular Cleveland sports news site, Waiting For Next Year. “That was just who he was. Welcoming, inviting, wanting as many people to love the game and team he loved.”
Though he never once stepped onto the field for a major league team, Adams will be remembered by fans across the league for his sheer commitment to his life’s work. For close to five decades starting on Aug. 24, 1973, and until the pandemic hit in 2020, he missed just one home game per year on average – sometimes fewer.
“The memory of that day [in 1999] is at the core of who I am as a Cleveland baseball fan,” Forness said. “The little kindness he showed a little kid at one of his first professional games kick-started a lifelong passion, and I’m forever grateful.”
The funeral service for Adams on Feb. 4 wasn’t just an ordinary funeral mass. The ceremony, held at Cleveland’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, featured an in-service rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” and, of course, the sound of beating bass drums outside the church.
“His middle name being Joseph, I think should be changed to ‘volunteer,’” Vicki Arida, a friend of Adams, said during his eulogy.
At Adams’ funeral, much was made about the optimism he displayed, especially towards the team itself. When Adams first brought his drum to Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1973, the Indians were in the midst of a playoff drought, dating back to 1954. He and the drum would not see a playoff appearance until 1995.
“Through the years, he met a few stars, and was always baffled by everyone’s fascination with him,” Arida said. “He played to spark rallies, celebrate wins and smile with Clevelanders.”
His funeral pallbearers included popular sports beat reporter Terry Pluto, and Len Barker, the last pitcher to throw a perfect game wearing a Cleveland uniform. Naturally, Adams and the ever-present drum were there in 1981 to see Barker pull off a feat that has happened just 23 times total.
Barker, like many other players to wear the word “Cleveland” across the front of their jersey, remembered Adams among all 35,000 or so fans at Progressive Field. After all, considering how loud that bass drum was, it was hard not to remember him.
That, perhaps, was Adams’ greatest strength both as a fan and as a person. Though he never sought recognition, his consistent determination to contribute to the community, loudly, in any way he could, made him something greater than himself.
“My guess is, if we took turns, and I invited everyone to come up here to share memories of him. … Each of you have your unique memories of the way that he touched your life in some way,” Rev. Sean Ralph said during the funeral. “And I do hope that you cherish those memories.”
Adams has been memorialized at Progressive Field with both a plaque and a large bronze sculpture featuring his drum, which has been moved to Heritage Park. Additionally, a pair of his drum mallets will move to Cooperstown, New York, and be added to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“John has been with us since our time at Cleveland Municipal, banging his drum for nearly 50 years, bringing joy to fans and players alike,” the Guardians said in a press release. “John, you will be missed but your legacy will live on forever.”
Rest in peace, John Adams. You will be missed. ∞