John Adams, a fixture at most Cleveland Indians home games who first lugged a secondhand bass drum into the bleachers in the summer of 1973 and continued to rally fans by striking it emphatically for almost half a century, died on Monday in Cleveland. He was 71.
The team, which changed its name to the Guardians after the 2021 season, announced his death but did not cite a cause. Over the past few years, Mr. Adams had undergone heart surgery and experienced broken ribs, a broken hip and other ailments, which prevented him from thumping his drum at Progressive Field after the 2019 season.
“God didn’t give me the reflexes to play on the field,” he told Fox Sports in 2016. “Every time I swing, I get a hit, so it’s like instant gratification.”
Mr. Adams’s drumming was heard at more than 3,700 home games, first at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and then, starting in 1994, at Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field). Stationed deep in the bleachers, he steadily urged the team on by rhythmically banging his drum with two mallets.
“Football has its bands and its cheerleaders, and all of them help get into the spirit of the game,” Mr. Adams told The Akron Beacon Journal in 1983, explaining his long-running stadium gig. “Baseball has nothing, so I thought of the war drum thing for the Indians.”
His status as a superfan was acknowledged when the team gave away bobblehead figures of him with a drum and movable arms at a home game in 2006. Six years later, Great Lakes Brewing introduced Rally Drum Red Ale in his honor.
And last year, on the 49th anniversary of Mr. Adams’s first performance at a game, he was inducted into the Guardians’ Distinguished Hall of Fame as a nonuniformed contributor. That group also includes Bill Veeck and Richard E. Jacobs, two of the team’s former owners.
A sculptor created a bronze replica of the drum, which was affixed to Mr. Adams’s bleacher bench and installed in the team’s two-level Hall of Fame area beyond center field at Progressive Field.
Unlike Mr. Adams, who worked solo, dozens of drummers at Oakland Coliseum exhort the A’s from their seats in both left and right field. At Citi Field, a die-hard Met fan named Eddie Boison rings a cowbell at critical moments. At Yankee Stadium, a retired truck driver known as Freddie Sez urged fans on by banging a spoon against a frying pan at more than 1,500 games, from 1988 to 2010.
Perhaps the best-known ballpark musicians played from the late 1930s until 1957 at Ebbets Field, for the Brooklyn Dodgers — a band called “the Sym-Phony” (emphasis on the “phony”), a ragtag group of amateur drummers, trumpeters, trombonists and washboard players.
John Joseph Adams was born on Oct. 9, 1951, in Cleveland to John and Eva (Friedman) Adams.
He attended his first Indians game in 1954 and began playing the drums when he was 9. In high school, he performed in the marching band and the orchestra and led cheers; he graduated from Cleveland State University in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in English.
On Aug. 24, 1973, Mr. Adams asked for permission from the Indians to bring his drum to Municipal Stadium. Oddly, he was told not to disturb anyone with his drumming.
“The first time, I got a lot of stares and a few comments like ‘You’re not going to play that thing, are you?’” he told The Beacon Journal, adding that an inebriated fan during that game grabbed his arm and said: “You gonna bang on that drum? Well, then start hitting it.”
“Suddenly, I saw people clapping to the beat,” he recalled. “When the game was over, people stopped me outside the stadium. They told me I had the opposing pitcher so rattled that guys from the other team were looking all over for me.” The Indians beat the Texas Rangers that day, 11-5.
Mr. Adams continued to bang his drum — through many a losing season at the old Municipal Stadium and in mostly better times at Progressive Field — while working at AT&T in several positions, including systems analyst and quality manager, for 40 years, until 2016.
Mr. Adams is survived by a sister, Renee Dilley. His marriage in 1978 to Kathleen Murray, whom he met in the bleachers at Municipal Stadium, ended in divorce.
His medical problems, as well as the pandemic, kept Mr. Adams from the ballpark in recent years. Before the Guardians’ home opener last year, he said he was trying to build up enough strength for a return.
“There’s nothing like being down at the ballpark,” he told mlb.com. “Because it’s more than just the game; it’s all the people around you and all the people you see. It makes the experience of a baseball game way above just sitting at home.”