Remembering Cleveland Guardians drummer John Adams
CLEVELAND, Ohio – I had known John Adams for decades.
But I never really knew John Adams until last fall. That’s when the Guardians were roaring into the American League playoffs.
Adams wanted to be there, beating the drum in the Progressive Field bleachers for the most surprising team in the American League. He longed to attend the playoffs.
Instead, Adams was at O’Neill Healthcare in Fairview Park.
But he watched every game, every inning of the playoffs.
“It has been some of the best medicine for me,” Adams told me. “Tito (Terry Francona), what a manager! Can you believe the job he did? Can you believe this team?”
Adams died Monday at the age of 71. The last few years have been an onslaught of health problems – heart surgery, kidney failure, staph infections, thyroid trouble and a broken hip.
At least, that’s what he told me when we sat together for a long interview at the end of September. My guess is there were even more issues with his health. Adams was not a complainer.
“I have my pity parties,” Adams said. “They last about 10 minutes. Then I remind myself of all the good things that have happened – and all the team has done for me. Look around my room, all the cards fans have sent. They came from people I don’t even know.”
In his room at the nursing home, the walls are filled with pictures and cards from fans. Photo By Terry Pluto / Cleveland.com
“A KOSHER CATHOLIC”
Those cards and notes from fans helped carry him through his last months. He talked about getting stronger, one day returning to the ballpark.
But down deep, he knew that wasn’t likely.
Instead, the ballpark came to him in the form of notes, calls and visits. Guardians Vice President Curtis Danburg lives nearby and often checked on Adams.
“I’ve been blessed,” Adams told me. “I really mean that. God has been good to me … I’m a Kosher Catholic. My mother was Jewish, my father was Catholic.”
We laughed. It’s a line he’d used for years, but still funny.
For 42 years, Adams worked for AT&T before being laid off in 2016 at the age of 65. He played the drums since the age of 9. He could play anything from rock to Dixieland to jazz to classical. He jammed with Jimmy Fox of the James Gang and other area rockers.
He appeared at night clubs, TV shows and other venues.
But what was he known for? Beating a drum in the bleachers.
“In five minutes, I could take a monkey and teach him to play the drums like I do in the bleachers,” he laughed. “And it all happened because one day I decided to take a drum to the ballgame.”
Cleveland drummer John Adams has been honored by the Guardians for his faithfulness. Illustration by Chris Morris / Advance local
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
That day was Aug. 24, 1973. Adams had been going to games regularly at the old Cleveland Stadium. Like many fans – OK, not that many back then as the Tribe averaged 7,594 fans in 1973 – he’d take one of those old empty wooden chairs and bang up it and down to create a beat for a rally.
“It was like a drum beat,” he said. “I thought, ‘I play the drums. Why not just bring a drum to a game?’ "
He called the team with his idea. They didn’t care. They were just glad someone wanted to buy a ticket to watch that miserable team on the way to a 71-91 final record.
On that August evening of nearly 50 years ago, Cleveland Press baseball writer Bob Sudyk spotted Adams beating the drum in the bleachers – not hard as the announced “crowd” was 5,736 as the Tribe beat Texas, 11-5.
Sudyk interviewed Adams about bringing the drum to the game. He asked if Adams planned to come back for the next game.
“I said I wasn’t sure,” said Adams. “Bob wrote, ‘If you want to hear the drummer, come back for today’s game.’ That was was it. I knew had to show up.”
So he did. Tribe Promotions Director Jackie York noticed some fans liked the drummer and sat by him in the bleachers. She asked Adams to come to every game.
It took a few years, but Adams was given two season tickets.
As we talked, we decided to figure out how many games Adams had attended. The Guardians said it was about 3,500. We spent time on this quest. With the help of old schedules and a calculator, we figured it was between 3,840 and 3,900 games.
“(Former Tribe broadcaster) Herb Score called me ‘Boom Boom’ or ‘Chief Boom Boom,’ " said Adams. “I loved it.”
John Adams interacting with fans at Tribe Fest in 2015.Dan Mendlik/Cleveland Indians
You can pay marketing people millions of dollars and they couldn’t come up with something for a team with the long-lasting appeal of John Adams.
He started in 1973. It was 22 years and a move to a new ballpark before the Tribe made the playoffs. Adams was there, nearly every game – rain, snow, sun and a shocking string of miserable baseball seasons.
“I loved going to the ballpark,” said Adams. “You could walk up the old Stadium ramp and you’d see the green grass and the blue lake. I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz where everything in black and white suddenly turned to color.”
At that, Adams leaned back in his bed and closed his eyes.
“I can still see it,” he said.
John Adams carries his bass drum to his bleacher seat at Progressive Field on Thursday, August 22, 2013. Adams was celebrating his 40th anniversary of drumming at Indians games.
ALWAYS A FAN FIRST
Moments after it was announced that Adams had died, I received this email from John Houser. In the 1980s, he lived in the same Brecksville neighborhood as Adams.
“We would pile into his blue van and head down to the old Municipal Stadium to sit in the bleachers with him,” wrote Houser. “We would eat peanuts and throw the shells on his drum. Since the Indians at the time were not very good, we would have quite a pile at times on the drum. John would not hit the drum unless an Indian reached second base … when he finally beat the drum, the shells would go flying everywhere and we’d have a blast.”
He beat the drum every season until the end of 2019. In 2020, baseball came back for 60 games in the COVID season. The Tribe asked Adams to bang the drum, but he decided against it.
If the fans couldn’t be admitted to the game, he also believed he should stay away from the ballpark. Most of all, he was just that – a fan.
And the fans loved him.
Last August 24, the Guardians surprised Adams with a ceremony at the O’Neill Healthcare center. He banged his drum a few times. He became the 12th member of Cleveland’s Distinguished Hall of Fame. His bench that held his drum was enshrined at Heritage Park.
“I’ve met fans from every continent except Antarctica – and that’s because they don’t let penguins in the game,” said Adams. “I’m serious. People from everywhere have come to up to me. I thank God for the life he’s given me.”
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How to remember drummer John Adams? He wanted to make people feel better – Terry Pluto – cleveland.com
Remembering Cleveland Guardians drummer John Adams