CHAPTER III

CHAPTER III

A Base-Ball "Star"

Don't get chesty over success.—Billy Sunday.

SOMETIMES the preacher tells his people what a great journalist he might have been, or what a successful business man, had he not entered the ministry; but usually his hearers never would have suspected it if he had not told them. Billy Sunday's eminence as a base-ball player is not a shadow cast backward from his present preeminence. His success as a preacher has gained luster from his distinction as a base-ball player, while his fame as a baseball player has been kept alive by his work as an evangelist.

All the world of base-ball enthusiasts, a generation ago, knew Billy Sunday, the speediest base-runner and the most daring base-stealer in the whole fraternity. Wherever he goes today veteran devotees of the national game recall times they saw him play; and sporting periodicals and sporting pages of newspapers have been filled with reminiscences from base-ball "fans^" of the triumphs of the evangelist on the diamond.

A side light on the reality of his religion while engaged in professional base ball is thrown by the fact that sporting writers always speak of him with pride and loyalty, and his old base-ball associates who still survive, go frequently to hear him preach. The base-ball world thinks that he reflects distinction on the game.

Now base ball in Marshalltown and base ball in Chicago had not exactly the same standards. The recruit had to be drilled. He struck out the first thirteen times he went to bat. He never became a superior batter, but he could always throw straight and hard. At first he was inclined to take too many chances and his judgment was rather unsafe. One base-ball writer has said that "Sunday » (33)

probably caused more wide throws than any other player the game has ever known, because of his specialty of going down to first like a streak of greased electricity. When he hit the ball infielders yelled 'hurry it up.' The result was that they often threw them away." He was the acknowledged champion sprinter of the National League. This once led to a match race with Arlie Latham, who held like honors in the American League. Sunday won by fifteen feet.

Sunday was the sort of figure the bleachers liked. He was always eager-—sometimes too eager— to" take a chance." What was a one-base hit for another man was usually good

for two bases for him. His slides and stolen bases were adventures beloved of the "fans"—the spice of the game. He also was apt in O retort to the coml e££~- ^C\fv ments from the

^ bleachers, but always good-natured. The crowds liked him, even as did his team mates.

Sunday was a man's man, and so continues to this day. His tabernacle audiences resemble base-ball crowds in the proportion of men present, more nearly than any other meetings of a religious nature that are regularly being held. Sunday spent five years on the old Chicago team, mostly playing right or center field. He was the first man in the history of base ball to circle the bases in fourteen seconds. He could run a hundred yards from a standing start in ten seconds flat. Speed had always been his one distinction. As a lad of thirteen, in the Fourth of July games at Ames, he won a prize of three dollars in a foot-race, a feat which he recalls with pleasure.

Speed is a phase of base ball that, being clear to all eyes, appeals to the bleachers. So it came about that Sunday was soon a base-ball "hero," analogous to "Ty" Cobb or "Home-Run" Baker, or Christy Mathewson of our own day. He himself tells the story of one famous play, on the day after his conversion:

"That afternoon we played the old Detroit club. We were neck and neck for the championship. That club had Thompson, Richardson, Rowe, Dunlap, Hanlon and Bennett, and they could play ball.

"I was playing right field. Mike Kelly was catching and John G. Clarkson was pitching. He was as fine a pitcher as ever crawled into a uniform. There are some pitchers today, O'Toole, Bender, Wood, Mathewson, Johnson, Marquard, but I do not believe any one of them stood in the class with Clarkson.

"Cigarettes put him on the bum. When he'd taken a bath the water would be stained with nicotine.

"We had two men out and they had a man on second and one on third and Bennett, their old catcher, was at bat. Charley had three balls and two strikes on him. Charley couldn't hit a high ball: but he could kill them when they went about his knee.

"I hollered to Clarkson and said: 'One more and we got 'em.'

"You know every pitcher puts a hole in the ground where he puts his foot when he is pitching. John stuck his foot in the hole and he went clean to the ground. Oh, he could make 'em dance. He could throw overhanded, and the ball would go down and up like that. He is the only man on earth I have seen do that. That ball would go by so fast that the batter could feel the thermometer drop two degrees as she whizzed by. John went clean down, and as he went to throw the ball his right foot slipped and the ball went low instead of high.

"I saw Charley swing hard and heard the bat hit the ball with a terrific boom. Bennett had smashed the ball on the nose. I saw the ball rise in the air and knew that it was going clear over my head.

"I could judge within ten feet of where the ball would light. I turned my back to the ball and ran.

"The field was crowded with people and I yelled, 'Stand back!' and that crowd opened as the Red Sea opened for the rod of Moses. I ran on, and as I ran I made a prayer; it wasn't theological, either, I tell you that. I said, 'God, if you ever helped mortal man, help me to get that ball, and you haven't very much time to make up your mind, either.' I ran and jumped over the bench and stopped.

"I thought I was close enough to catch it. I looked back and saw it was going over my head and I jumped and shoved out my left hand and the ball hit it and stuck. At the rate I was going the momentum carried me on and I fell under the feet of a team of horses. I jumped up with the ball in my hand. Up came Tom Johnson. Tom used to be mayor of Cleveland. He's dead now.

"'Here is $10, Bill. Buy yourself the best hat in Chicago. That catch won me $1,500. Tomorrow go and buy yourself the best suit of clothes you can find in Chicago.'

"An old Methodist minister said to me a few years ago, 'Why, William, you didn't take the $10, did you?' I said, 'You bet your life I did.'"

After his five years with the Chicago base-ball team, Sunday played upon the Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia teams, his prestige so growing with the years that after he had been eight years in base ball, he declined a contract at five hundred dollars a month, in order to enter Christian work.

For most of his base-ball career Sunday was an outand-out Christian. He had been converted in 1887, after four years of membership on the Chicago team. He had worked at his religion; his team mates knew his Christianity for the real thing. On Sundays, because of his eminence as a base-ball player, he was in great demand for Y. M. C. A.

CopyriglU by Goodwin Jt Co , N Y.

Billy Sunday In National League Uniform,

talks. The sporting papers all alluded frequently to his religious interests and activities. Because of his Christian scruples he refused to play base ball on Sunday. During the four years of his experience as a Christian member of the base-ball profession it might have been clear to anybody who cared to study the situation carefully that the young man's interest in religion was steadily deepening and that he was headed toward some form of avowedly Christian service.

"I had a three-year contract with Philadelphia. I said to God, 'Now if you want me to quit playing ball and go into evangelistic work, then you get me my release,' and so I left it with God to get my release before the 25th day of March and would take that as an evidence that he wanted me to quit playing ball.

"On the 17th day of March, St. Patrick's day—I shall never forget it—I was leading a meeting and received a letter from Colonel Rogers, president of the Philadelphia club, stating I could have my release.

"In came Jim Hart, of the Cincinnati team, and up on the platform and pulled out a contract for $3,500. A player only plays seven months, and he threw the check down for $500, the first month's salary in advance. He said, 'Bill, sign up!' But I said, 'No!' I told him that I told God if he wanted me to quit playing ball to get my release before the 25th day of March and I would quit.

"There I was up against it. I went around to some of my friends and some said, 'Take it!' Others said, 'Stick to your promise.' I asked my father-in-law about it, and he said, 'You are a blank fool if you don't take it.' I went home and went to bed, but could not sleep, and prayed that night until five, o'clock, when I seemed to get the thing straight and said, 'No, sir, I will not do it.'

"I went to work for the Y. M. C. A. and had a very hard time of it. It was during those hard times that I hardly had enough to pay my house rent, but I stuck to my promise."

It was in March of 1891 that Sunday made the decision which marked the parting of the ways for him. He abandoned base ball forever as a profession, although not as an interest, and entered upon definite religious work. He accepted a position in the Chicago Y. M. C. A. as a subordinate secretary at $83.33 per month—and sometimes this was six months overdue.

The stuff of which the young man's moral character was made is revealed by the fact that he deliberately rejected a $500-a-month base-ball contract in order to serve Christ at a personal sacrifice. This incident reveals the real temper of Sunday, and is to be borne in mind when discussion is raised concerning the large offerings which are made to him now in his successful evangelistic work. That act was not the deed of a money-loving man. If it does not spell consecration, it is difficult to define what it does mean.

Doubtless there were many who thought this ending of a conspicuous base-ball career an anti-climax, even as the flight of Moses into the wilderness of Sinai apparently spelled defeat. Gut of such defeats and sacrifices as these grow the victories that best serve the world and most honor God.