“Lord, if you ever Helped a Mortal Man, help me get that Ball”

29 Aug

Outfielder turned evangelist Billy Sunday spent a month during 1902 traveling through the small towns of East Central Indiana, preaching in the small towns that rose as a result of the natural gas boom.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday, ballplayer

A reporter for The Philadelphia Press spent time with Sunday during the tour, and the paper ran a story that the evangelist told at every stop—about how “prayer saved a game of baseball.”

Sunday said it happened during 1886—Sunday at various times said he was “saved” in 1886 or 1887– when he was playing for the Chicago White Stockings.  The first place White Stockings were playing the second place Detroit Wolverines in a September series:

“The last half of the ninth inning was being played,” says the ex-ball player.  “Two men were out, and Detroit, with Charley Bennett at bat, had one man on second and another on third.  He had two strikes on him and three balls called, when he fell on a ball with terrific force.  It started for the clubhouse.  Benches had been placed in the field for spectators, and as I saw the ball sailing through my section of the air I realized I was going over the crowd, and I called: ‘Get out of the way!’  The crowd opened, and as I ran and leaped those benches I said one of the swiftest prayers that was ever offered.

“It was, ‘Lord, if you ever helped a mortal man, help me get that ball.’  I went over the benches as though wings were carrying me up.  I threw out my hand while in the air, and the ball struck and stuck.  The game was ours.  Though the deduction is hardly orthodox, I am sure the Lord helped me catch that ball, and it was my first great lesson in prayer.  Al Johnson, brother of the present mayor of Cleveland, ran up to me and handed me a ten-dollar bill.  ‘Buy a new hat Bill,’ said he.  ‘That catch won me $1,500.”

The White Stockings went on to win the National League championship over Detroit by two and half games.

Sunday’s stories earned him thousands of followers, and scores of critics—among the religious and non-religious.

Billy Sunday, evangelist

Billy Sunday, evangelist

A 1915 article—during the height of Sunday’s popularity– in “The Congregationalist and Christian World,” the magazine of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches said:

“He has grave faults.  He is intolerant; his language is often violent, impatient and unkind.  He is a fighter of the types that asks and gives no quarter.  I saw him do and say things that seemed to me ridiculous and I disapprove of many things I reason to believe he has said and done.  I could make out a pretty strong case against him on the facts I have at my command.  But after we have said all that, we have before us a preacher whom I believe to be honest and earnest…He says ‘If I talked the same and acted the same as the other fellows do I wouldn’t get more people to listen to me than they get.’  With the crowd before him he wins their confidence, makes them his friends and delivers the message that is in his heart.  He talks plain, blunt language, tinged with the vernacular of the sporting crowd and that all who follow our great national game are accustomed to use.”

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One Response to ““Lord, if you ever Helped a Mortal Man, help me get that Ball””

  1. Evin Demirel August 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    This could totally be the motto of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Nice tidbit about a baseball star-turned-power-evangelist who didn’t then have an MLB Network to turn to after his playing days were over.

    Tim Tebow, on the other hand…

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