The Royals enjoy an off day as they head home from a 3-6 road trip. First up on a nine-game homestand: the Boston Red Sox.
Our biographical series of some role players on the 1969 team continues with a look at the sometimes-sad story of infielder Jerry Adair.
Kenneth Jerry Adair was born on December 17, 1936, in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. Well, near there—his technical place of birth was Lake Station, which was an unincorporated area between Sand Springs and Tulsa that has been overtaken by the growth of those two cities. His ancestry included Cherokee blood and both Adair County and the town of Adair in Oklahoma are named for one of Jerry’s relatives, a man named William Penn Adair who was a leader of the Cherokee Nation in the latter half of the 1800s.
Jerry starred in baseball, football, and basketball at Sand Springs High School, then accepted scholarships for baseball and basketball to play at Oklahoma A&M, now known as Oklahoma State. Adair played hoops for legendary coach Henry Iba, on the same team as Eddie Sutton. In baseball, he made his mark as OSU’s first All-Big 8 player (the Cowboys joined the conference during Adair’s time in Stillwater).
Adair was still in school when the Orioles signed him as an amateur free agent on September 2, 1958. That evening, he made his major league debut, playing one inning at shortstop. That’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? Adair reportedly received a $40,000 signing bonus, a decent chunk of change in 1958.
After spending that September in the majors, Adair started 1959 with Baltimore’s Class AA team in Amarillo, Texas. Hitting .309/.345/.430 there got him another September in the majors. The cycle repeated in 1960, with Adair playing at Class AAA Miami and hitting .266/.297/.350. That’s not great, but Adair’s glove at shortstop got him noticed. Teams in that era were usually more concerned with a middle infielder’s glove than his bat anyway.
A good spring training in 1961 earned Adair a spot on the Baltimore roster to start the year, and soon he was the starting second baseman, although he would occasionally start at shortstop or third base. Adair hit a decent .264/.326/.394 for 1961 and followed that with a .284/.319/.414 line in 1962. However, his offense fell off in 1963 (.228/.246/.346) and 1964 (.248/.283/.341). The defense remained solid as Adair set an American League record in 1964 by committing only five errors at second base. That was part of a record 458 chances without an error, a streak that ended in 1965. Adair also earned his teammates’ respect for his toughness, particularly when he was hit in the mouth by a throw in a 1964 doubleheader. Adair missed the rest of the first game, received 11 stitches, and suited up and played in the second game.
But after the 1965 season, Adair’s time in Baltimore came to an end. The Orioles gave rookie Davey Johnson the second base job, and Adair demanded a trade. His wish was granted when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in June. Adair missed out on Baltimore’s 1966 World Series appearance, but he made it the next year after being traded to Boston in June 1967. Adair hit .291/.321/.367 as the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox captured the AL pennant on the last day of the season, returning the Red Sox to the World Series for the first time in 21 years.
Much of the rest of Adair’s story is sad, though. His offense fell off in 1968, and he was left unprotected in the expansion draft. The Royals took him with the 51st pick in that draft. Adair did get to play a lot as Kansas City’s primary second baseman in 1969, and hit .250/.285/.310 for the year. Highlights included driving in the first run in team history, and picking up the first inside-the-park home run in franchise history. On the downside, his six-year-old daughter Tammy was diagnosed with cancer.
Tammy’s illness meant that Adair missed much of spring training before the 1970 season. She died in early April, and Adair returned to the team in late April. He had played only seven games when the Royals released him. It was an ugly situation, as the team waited through an off-day and was at the airport for a charter flight when manager Charlie Metro notified him, not to mention the optics of releasing a player who had buried his child less than three weeks earlier. Adair and several of his teammates were willing to air their displeasure to the media, unusual in those days.
It appears the rest of the MLB teams agreed that Adair was no longer a major league player, though. Adair played 33 games for St. Louis’ Class AAA team at Tulsa, and in 1971 he headed to Japan. After a successful year there, he retired as a player. Adair served as a coach for Oakland and California from 1972 through 1976, picking up three World Series rings with the A’s dynasty. But after California fired Dick Williams following the 1976 season, Adair’s coaching days were over.
Adair’s wife Kay died of cancer in 1981. In 1986, Jerry had a cancerous mole removed from his arm. He was in the hospital soon after for gallbladder surgery when doctors found the cancer had spread to his liver. His condition worsened quickly, and Adair passed away at the age of 50 in May 1987.
Adair was posthumously added to the Sand Springs High School and Oklahoma State Halls of Fame, in 1992 and 2001 respectively.
Today’s birthday: Mark Gubicza (1962)