With yesterday’s revelation that Alex Rodriguez and 103 other currently anonymous players tested positive for steroids in 2003, it’s understandable that A-Rod/Roid is the current hot topic on many blogs. So many of you have expressed the anger and disappointment that we all are feeling, and said it so well, that I’m not even going to try to add my two cents. Besides, even though “Rants” is the first word of my blog title, I’m really much more of a “random thinker” than a “ranter”. It’s just that the name sounded good that way – very alliterative.
So since today is Sunday, I decided to do a little piece on one of the many fascinating characters to have played this great game, Billy Sunday. After being a popular outfielder for several teams during the 1880s, he is best known for becoming an influential evangelist in the early decades of the 20th century. And he played briefly for the Phillies, hence my interest.
William Ashley Sunday was born November 19, 1862 in Ames, Iowa. His father died five weeks later. At the age of 10, his mother was forced to send Billy and an older brother to an orphanage. It was at the orphanage that he realized he had athletic ability. By 1880, he was playing for the town baseball team in Marshalltown, Iowa. In 1883, he was signed to the Chicago White Stockings on the recommendation of Marshalltown native and future Hall of Famer Cap Anson.
Over the course of his eight-season major league career, Billy compiled a .248 batting average, and had 246 stolen bases. Though not an outstanding hitter, and an inconsistent fielder, he was known as an exceptionally fast baserunner. After playing five seasons in Chicago, he was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He played two seasons and part of a third in Pittsburgh, and was then traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, appearing in 31 games in 1890.
At some point while playing in Chicago, Sunday received Christ (so, no, it wasn’t playing in Philadelphia that caused his conversion 😉 ). Then, at the start of the 1891 season, he turned down a $3,000 a year contract in order to take a position with a Chicago YMCA that paid $83 a month. In this capacity he frequently ministered to the sick and troubled for the next three years. His evangelistic career began to grow when he became an assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman in 1883. After striking out on this own in 1896, he traveled throughout Iowa and Illinois, preaching. As his fame grew, he traveled to larger and larger cities, and at the height of his career in the 1910s, his sermons were front page news in the cities where he appeared. Following World War I, Sunday’s popularity and health began to decline. He eventually died of a heart attack in 1935.
Billy had quit drinking when he was first converted, and was an ardent supporter of temperance. He also criticized such seemingly harmless activities as dancing, playing cards, attending the theater, and reading novels. However, he believed baseball was a healthy and even patriotic form of recreation, as long as it wasn’t played on Sunday.
Interesting, isn’t it, how sometimes a person’s name so perfectly fits their occupation. While I don’t agree with, and certainly don’t follow, all of Billy Sunday’s teachings (hard to imagine a lazy Sunday afternoon without a baseball game!), I’m sure he would have some choice words for some of today’s players!
(photos from billysundaybiography.com; baseball info from Baseball-Reference.com; biographical info from Wikipedia)