The drumbeat of Cleveland baseball for nearly 50 years, John Adams continues the beat from afar
Lifelong Cleveland baseball fan John Adams died Monday morning. He was 71. Since 1973, Adams was the man behind the drum beat (literally) of fan passion for the team. He and his bass drum attended more than 3,700 games until COVID limited fan attendance at the games, and then health problems held him back. He spoke with sports commentator Terry Pluto in October.
The Cleveland Guardians will be without their drumbeat as they begin the postseason on Friday. John Adams, who sat at the top row of the bleachers banging on a bass drum for nearly 50 years of Major League Baseball in Cleveland, hasn’t been to a game since 2019.
Adams started banging on a bass drum at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1973, and continued for more than 3,700 games. The pandemic kept fans away from the stadium in 2020, and Adams hasn’t been back after developing health problems later that year.
Commentator Terry Pluto talked with Adams at his Cleveland-area nursing care facility just as the Guardians were clinching the division title.
“He said to me, ‘Who would ever believe [that] because I once took a drum to the game it would turn into this?’ For John, it was 48 years of going to games and missing no more than one or two per year. In fact, we sat there and tried to figure out how many games he's been to. We came up with about 3,900,” Pluto said.
Pluto said Adams has been drumming since he was nine years old, and has performed with some popular acts, including the James Gang. Back at the old Municipal Stadium, fans would bang on the seats as a rally call. Adams thought it would be fun to bang on a drum instead of the seats.
“So, he actually he did call the old Indians and asked if he could bring a drum. And of course, that was back when they were averaging about 7,000 [fans] a game. They had the second worst attendance in all baseball. They figured, they had nearly 80,000 seats, if a guy wants to bring a drum, just sit somewhere where you don’t bother anybody,” Pluto said.
So Adams brought a drum to the game and sat at the top row of the bleachers. Cleveland Press baseball writer Bob Sudyk noticed him, and interviewed him after the game.
“He asked, ‘Are you going to come to tomorrow's game?’ And [John] said, ‘I don't know. It’s just a sort of a one-off thing.’ Well, Sudyk put in the paper, you can hear drumming at the next game! And so Adams saw this and took his drum to the bleachers the next day, and it just kind of started from there.”
Adams went to nearly every game while he worked at AT&T through 2019. The pandemic kept fans away in 2020. “Interestingly, the Indians offered him a chance to come and bang the drum in the empty stadium. But he said, ‘No, I'm a fan. If the fans can't be there, I'm not there,’” Pluto said.
Adams began developing a number of health issues over the past two years, including kidney failure. He continues to watch the games at his nursing care facility, surrounded by cards from fans.
“He's amazed at how it took off. If he wasn't at a game, people wanted to know where he was. The different broadcasters would mention it. Everybody around the league, the different players knew him,” Pluto said.
And, Pluto said, it developed into an organic marketing campaign.
“Think about the millions of dollars spent on marketing these teams. These companies are always trying to create something like this, but the best things just happen. A guy came to the game one day with a drum,” Pluto said.
The Guardians in August inducted Adams into the team's Distinguished Hall of Fame and will place a bronze plaque above his seat on the top row of the bleachers at Progressive Field. A replica bronze drum will also be installed in the ballpark.
“It is killing John not to be there for this year. He goes, ‘This team is so much fun,'” Pluto said.
Adams says he wants to try to get back to the ballpark, but Pluto said it’s likely a “long shot.”
“I love this comment. He said, ‘When I go to a game with a drum, I almost have 20 instant friends. They want to just talk.’ It's sort of like the power of the drum, and I would just say the power of something innocent and genuine at a ballgame,” Pluto said.
And what’s more, Pluto said this all began in 1973, when the team wasn’t a hot ticket.
"The team was terrible; they had the second worst attendance in baseball. They were in a falling down ballpark," Pluto said. "There were rumors of the team moving. I'm not saying (Adams) saved the franchise, but he became, I would say, the heartbeat of the franchise with that drum."