The sad tale of ‘Twinkletoes’ Adair, an early Rams star

Dick Adair with The Rams in 1938.

It is both comical and rude to discuss what happened to Dick Adair, a .300 hitter in the Anniston Rams’ inaugural season of 1938. But here it is: The fleet-footed outfielder who teammates called “Twinkletoes” lost five of those digits — and part of his right leg — that fall and never played again.

If only Adair, a boy from Waxahachie, Texas, had been grievously injured playing ball, a freak accident in a largely non-contact sport — a Southeastern League (and non-fatal) version of Ray Chapman, the only Major League player to die from an injury suffered on the field. Instead, his injury happened during the Thanksgiving holiday when hunters take to the woods.

Adair, 27, climbed a tree on Sunday morning, Nov. 20, 1938, to scout for deer and dropped his shotgun, which fired when it hit the ground. The buckshot struck Adair near his right knee. His brother Elmer — also a minor-league player — rushed Adair to the hospital, where doctors gave him a blood transfusion and wondered if the leg was salvageable.

A 1938 clipping from The Anniston Star.

It wasn’t. Shotgun wounds are terrible that way. Doctors soon removed the leg near the knee later that afternoon.

“It was only luck that I happened to be close enough to hear him yell for help,” Elmer Adair wrote in a letter to The Anniston Star newspaper. “I stopped the bleeding immediately, but he lost quite a bit of blood. In fact, we almost lost Dick, as we had to carry him three miles over mountains and through cacti. His leg was shot so nearly off that it had to be amputated here (Brady, Tex.) at 5 p.m. (Sunday).”

Though his baseball career ended that Sunday morning in the Texas woods, Adair lived a long and apparently fruitful life. What type of career he would have enjoyed — Career minor-leaguer? MLB journeyman? — is one of the possible success stories that seem to blot the Rams’ baseball legacy.

A 1938 clipping from the Waxahachie Daily Light.

Born at the beginning of World War I in 1914, Adair played several sports in high school in Waxahachie and began his professional career in 1934 with the Class D Evangeline League team in Alexandria, Louisiana. Just 19, the left-handed hitting outfielder hit .292, setting the stage for a possible quick jaunt through the minors. He even recorded an unassisted triple play — as an outfielder! — when he raced in to catch a low liner near second base, stepped on the bag to double off a runner and tagged another runner who was sprinting from first base.

In 1974, one of Adair’s Alexandria teammates, Herschel King, recalled a story to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter that didn’t involve a deer stand and shotgun wound but did involve blood.

Art Phelan, the Alexandria manager, was driving the team bus on a road trip. “Cows and horses grazed on the highways,” King said. “The had the right-of-way in the ’30s.

“Once, Art hit a cow and the bus turned over in the ditch. Players were lying everywhere with cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. But Dick Adair, our right fielder from Waxahachie, had blood all over him. He seemed to be at death’s door. He called weakly for help, moaning and groaning.

“Players disrobed him, wiping away the blood. Actually, Dick was the only player who didn’t get a scratch or bruise. That blood was from the cow.”

A 1937 clipping from the Tampa Tribune.

After playing semi-pro baseball the following summer, Adair signed in 1936 with the Gainesville, Florida, G-Men of the Class D Florida State League. Unbothered by his cow-blood bath or a year in sandlot games, he hit .285 with 15 doubles in 117 games. His breakout came the next year with the DeLand Red Hats, a FSL team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, where he led the league with a .334 average, 21 doubles and five triples.

Adair, 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, wasn’t a power hitter, but his speed and batting average fueled his ascension through the minors. The Rams were in their first season in 1938, but they were a Class B team and Chicago White Sox affiliate. Adair was 23, headed to Alabama — where his father’s family was from — and on the correct path.

It was at Anniston’s Johnston Field where teammates began calling him “Twinkletoes.” He started in center and hit second in the Rams’ first game, a 5-3 win over the Gadsden Pilots, the SEL’s other 1938 expansion team. (Adair went 1 for 3 and scored one of the Rams’ first-inning runs.)

Though the Rams finished in seventh place in the SEL at 62-86, Adair didn’t disappoint. His .303 average was second-highest among the Rams’ regulars. He was second in hits (154), fourth in doubles (16), second in triples (6) and third in total bases (185). No one would have been surprised the following spring if Adair had moved on from Anniston and taken another stop toward the big leagues.

Fate, though, derailed everything. If only he hadn’t gone home to Texas. If only he hadn’t gone hunting that Sunday morning. If only he hadn’t dropped his shotgun.

The Anniston Star carried a story the following Monday that told of Adair’s wound and that he was in critical condition in a Texas hospital. When word arrived in Anniston soon after that doctors had amputated Adair’s leg, both the newspaper and the Rams’ fans began a months-long crusade to help the outfielder with his new reality.

The following spring a charity effort began to raise money to pay for Adair’s prosthetic leg and bring him to Anniston for an appearance at a Rams game. Marshall Johnson, The Star’s sports editor, described it this way:

“Confined to his home at Waxahachie, Tex., by bad weather and the loss of a leg, outfielder Dick Adair bravely spends the days trying to catch up with his correspondence and diverting his mind with books and the radio.

“Due to financial circumstances of his family, Adair has not yet been able to get a wooden leg to replace the one he lost on a deer hunt.”

A 1939 clipping from The Anniston Star.

The Rams declared April 14 to be “Dick Adair Day,” when they would host a team from Samoset Mills in Talladega for an exhibition and all ticket sales would go toward Adair’s prosthesis. The Rams also wanted Adair to make the trip east. Mrs. Paul Thompson, who ran the boarding house on Wilmer Avenue where Adair stayed during the 1938 season, even offered to house and feed her former boarder for free.

“I have corresponded all winter with Dick and I’m mighty proud of Twinkletoes.”

— Welles Roberts

The fund-raising effort went on as March turned into April. Businesses and billiard parlors took donations from their customers to give over to the Adair kitty. In mid-March, The Star received another letter about Adair, this one from Welles Roberts, who had worked for the Rams the summer before.

“I have corresponded all winter with Dick and I’m mighty proud of Twinkletoes,” Roberts wrote. “A guy has to have real stuff under his shirt to take his misfortune the way Dick has. He is playing the game of life, despite his terrible handicap, just like he played baseball, right up to the hilt, his chin out, and he is dead set on still getting somewhere in baseball in some office capacity. He practices typewriting every day. And in that dry, sly humor of his, he jokes about how he hobbles around and what a cut-up he is going to be when he gets his peg leg.”

A 1938 clipping from The Anniston Star.

The Star printed a running tab on the fund-raising progress; the names of those who gave were published each day. Many of the donors at the Smokehouse, a billiard parlor, gave a quarter or two or a dollar. In late March, The Star acknowledged that Adair may choose to stay in Texas and use the donated travel money for his prosthesis.

Which he did. The Rams received a letter from Adair the morning of the charity game, telling them he couldn’t make it and sending his regrets. But the game went on as planned. About 600 people attended the exhibition, which the Rams won, 8-3, and raised $175 for Adair through ticket sales, a portion of the concession sales and private donations.

The Rams, though, were undaunted. They still wanted to bring Adair back to Anniston to show their appreciation and support. In August, Marshall Johnson, The Star’s sports writer, admitted that he constantly heard from fans wondering if the homecoming was going to take place.

He didn’t know. “No further word has come from the front office on the matter, which may have been forgotten in the shuffle of other business this summer,” he wrote.

There is no record in The Anniston Star’s archives of Adair ever making that trip. In 1940 when he filled out his World War II draft registration card, he wrote in “artificial right leg” when asked about physical characteristics that would aid in identification. He remained in Texas, married a few times, became a father several times over and died in 1998. Richard Thomas Adair is buried in Hillcrest Burial Park Cemetery in Waxahachie.

A back page of Dick Adair’s World War II registration form. (Ancestry.com)

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