“The Hardest Loser the Game Ever Knew”

3 Apr

During the same week Billy Sunday appeared at one of his largest revivals—preaching in front of an estimated 10,000 people in Spokane, Washington—Cap Anson was telling a judge in Chicago that he was “Busted,” unable to pay a $111 debt.

billysunday

Billy Sunday

Sunday told a reporter for the Associated Press in Spokane that he would be happy to raise money for his former teammate and manager—an offer Anson refused.  He also talked about his admiration for Anson and his impact on the game:

“Anson gave Chicago four pennant winners. He developed some of the greatest baseball players the game ever knew right in Chicago—made stars of raw kids. Look at Bill Lange, in my judgment the greatest outfielder the game ever produced. Anson made him.”

Sunday said:

“No other man gave so much of his best efforts for so long a time for any city since the game of baseball became popular…He took his job seriously. He was the hardest loser the game ever knew. I tell you, it used to be blue smoke in that old dressing room after those games that we lost by carelessness or dumb playing. He was fighting every minute for every game, no matter how big a lead the other fellows had.”

Sunday, who had been invited to Spokane originally by temperance advocates, claimed his former manager inspired him in that belief:

“Anson was a credit to the game of baseball. He was a model for the other players to follow, at least while I was under him. He had been a hard drinker until one day in 1876—the boys told me about this-he got into a fight at Philadelphia in a crowd after a hard game. It took eight policemen to handle him.

“The papers made a big muss about it, called him a rowdy, drunken bum—or something in the slang of those days that meant the same thing.”

Sunday said the incident “straightened Anson up,” and:

“He saw where whiskey was leading him to and he cut it out—right then and there—for all time. He never drinks, so far as I know, and while he tolerated it among other Chicago players, it was only because in those days a captain almost had to, and he counseled the boys against it, continually and repeatedly.”

And he said his former manager knew how to handle his players:

“Cap used to give me a jacking up for some ‘bonehead’ play, but he always knew just how to make me feel ashamed of myself without making me mad. He never violated a fellow’s inner instincts of manliness, and after I was converted I enjoyed playing under Anson just as much as I did before.”

In the end, Sunday said Anson was alone among his peers:

“I have followed baseball for nearly 30 years, and I believe that Anson stands as an absolutely unique character in the history of the game. There never was anybody like him before; there never has been anybody like him since.”

anson

Anson

Three years later, when Anson was trying to dig out of another financial hole, traveling the small theater circuit in the Midwest, he “lost himself in reflection” talking about Sunday to The Decatur (IL) Herald:

“If Billy Sunday chases the devil as fast as he used to circle the bases, he’ll have the old boy nailed at the plate.”

Anson contradicted the story he and Sunday would later tell about his aunt being responsible for the discovery of Sunday in Anson’s native Marshalltown, Iowa.

He told the paper his father and brother played with Sunday and “tipped him off as a mighty fast man.”

He said:

“Sunday was playing on the home team, running with the hose cart and driving a hearse, I believe, for a furniture store. He wasn’t making more than $12 a week. I asked him if he waned to play professional ball. ‘Sure,’ he said.”

Anson also told the not quite fully accurate and slightly different version of the story—which first appeared in his 1900 autobiography– about Sunday’s initial days with the White Stockings:

“Funny thing about Billy’s first appearance in the game. He was at bat 12 straight times without ever touching the ball. The 13th time he fouled it. I suppose any other manager would have released him, but I liked the fighting qualities of the fellow and held on to him.”

Anson also said Sunday took “more desperate chances in a game” than any other player:

“Some of the chances he took scared me. He didn’t get away with all of them, but he won out the percentage, just the same as he is doing today.”

As for Sunday’s conversion:

“Sunday was always religiously inclined. From the very start he refused to play baseball on Sunday. I always looked on him as a Christian young man.”

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