Billy Sunday took time out from saving souls in the Pacific Northwest in 1909, to talk baseball with a reporter from The Washington Post sent to cover the evangelist’s month-long revival in Spokane:
“I wouldn’t take $1 million dollars for my professional baseball experience. I am proud I made good and that I was one of the best of them in my day.”
Sunday then went to bat for the unquestioned integrity of the game:
“Baseball is the one sport in this country upon which the gamblers have not been able to get their crooked claws.
“There isn’t the same disgrace attached to a professional baseball player that attends other professional athletes. The gambler tried for 30 years to get control, but the men behind the game have stood firm and true. Baseball has stood the test. It is a pure, clean, wholesome game, and there is no disgrace to any man today for playing professional baseball.”
Sunday also said that after he “converted in 1886,” he discovered that:
“The club owners, the fans generally, and the players themselves will respect a man all the more for living a clean, honest life.”
While he said he rarely had time anymore to attend games, Sunday said he continued to follow the game closely and read the sports page every day.
Asked to name his all-time team, Sunday said:
“I would put (Cap) Anson on first base and make him captain, and I would have to find a place for Mike Kelly and John Clarkson. George Gore, Charlie Bennett, Kid Nichols, Amos Rusie, John Ward, Clark Griffith and others were all good men.”
Sunday returned his attention to his “Idol,” Anson:
“For every day in the season, for every occasion that might arise, I believe old Cap Anson was the best batsman the game ever knew. Just look at that grand record of his…He could hit anything. He used an extremely heavy bat…it used to do our hearts good to hear the crack when old ‘Cap’ Anson met the ball squarely.”
The preacher then told the reporter about his career:
“My first professional contract (in 1883 with the Chicago White Stockings) called for $60 a month. That was a windfall for me in those days, too. When I quit baseball (in 1890) my salary was $500 a month. The first two years I only got in a few games and was used more as a utility man.
“As a batter I averaged from .240 to .275 (Sunday’s averages actually ranged from .222 to .291) and that was fair in those days.”
He also recounted the visit received after he secured his release from the Philadelphia Phillies in 1890 in order to take a position with the Y.M.C.A. in Chicago:
“(On the day the release was announced) I was leading a class in a men’s noonday meeting in the Chicago Y.M.C.A., when Jim Hart, president of the Chicago club, walked in, and after the meeting laid down a contract on that old pulpit. It called for seven month’s salary at $500 a month, with one month’s salary in advance.
“Thirty-five hundred dollars and me almost broke with a wife and a baby to support. It was a horrible temptation, especially since I loved to play baseball. The next morning I sent Mr. Hart my refusal of his terms. I accepted a position for the year with the Y.M.C.A. at $83 a month.”
At the peak of his career as an evangelist in the early teens, it was reported that Sunday earned around $800 per day from the pulpit—roughly the annual salary of the average American worker.