“Quit Chasing Baseball Flies to Chase the Devil”

8 Apr

Rodney C. Wells was the editor of The Marshalltown (IA) Times-Republican; in 1909 he interviewed the world-famous evangelist, and second-best player to have gotten his start in Marshalltown; Billy Sunday.

billysunday

Billy Sunday

The article appeared in “The Literary Magazine,” a Chicago-based syndicated newspaper insert that appeared primarily * in newspapers in smaller (20,000 to 40,000 population) markets.

Wells said:

“Although since Billy Sunday quit chasing baseball flies to chase the devil he has been tremendously busy preaching the gospel and saving the souls of tens of thousands of men and women, the is still a thoroughbred ‘fan,’ and there isn’t a devotee of the great national game anywhere who keeps in closer touch with it than he.”

Sunday was asked the perfunctory question about the quality of the modern game versus the 19th Century:

“The individual ballplayer of today is no better than he was twenty or twenty-five years ago. In fact, I believe that taking everything into consideration, the fellows of a quarter of a century ago excelled in some ways. To be true what a man does nowadays counts for more in a game, for now they have teamwork down to perfection. In the old days we hardly knew what ‘teamwork,’ as the word applies today, was. We knew nothing about a hit and run game or the double steal—that was all unknown dope to us. Consequently, playing more as individuals, more rested on us as individuals. Hence my reason for saying that, perhaps in some ways, the boys of the old days excelled the stars of today.”

Wells told the story of Sunday coming to Marshalltown after being recruited from his home in Nevada, Iowa—where he was known as a fastest runner in town–to come to Cap Anson’s hometown to participate on the hose team of the local fire department in the state tournament.  Sunday was required to live in town for a month in order to compete with the local fire department.

“Incidentally, Sunday liked to play ball, and he was out in the pasture for practice regularly. He began to command attention in this line, not so much for his proficiency in the game, as his fleetness of foot and his great base running.”

He was recommended to Anson who “looked Sunday up and down and made him a proposition,” to join the White Stockings.  Sunday said upon his arrival:

“The first thing they ran me up against in Chicago was Fred Pfeffer, the crack second baseman of the then celebrated White Stockings. Pfeffer was the fastest man on the bases in Chicago and one of the fastest in the league. Anson had told some of the boys about my running, and they were inclined to doubt the old man’s word. It didn’t take long to settle matters, however, and the first thing I knew I was matched with Pfeffer in a foot race. It is needless to for me to go into details, but I made Pfeffer look like and ice wagon.”

pfeffer

Fred Pfeffer

Sunday acknowledged he “won a place” with Chicago “even though I wasn’t much of a batter,” because of his speed.

“Then, we hardly ever had a sub, and it was seldom that a fellow was not in his position. We played season after season with eleven or twelve men, while now it is not uncommon to see as high as thirty men in the big-league teams. Why, they carry nearly as many pitchers alone in these modern days as we did in our entire team then.”

Sunday asked:

“Where do you find a ballplayer today who was Cap Anson’s equal at all-around ball when Anson was at his best? And where can you find a catcher who would beat old Mike Kelly?

“While I consider Johnny Kling perhaps the best catcher in professional baseball today, I do not believe he was a better catcher than Mike Kelly. And Kelly wasn’t only a great catcher, but he could play anywhere. If needed he could go on any base and be perfectly at home, or he could make good in the outfield. And he was a cracking good base runner, too, even though he was heavy.

“Then there was our other catcher, Frank Flint. I shall never forget him. Grit? One never saw his equal. We didn’t wear the big mitts in those days, and a catcher behind the bat, although he was getting just as swift balls as the catchers of today, had much less protection on his hands. I saw Flint get a hard one on his left hand, that split the poor fellow’s fingers down a clean inch. Quick as a flash he reached for his shirt pocket, grabbed a rubber band, snapped it around his bleeding fingers, and gave a signal for another ball. Every finger on both of poor old Flint’s hands had been broken at some time or another, and there was never a man who played baseball who had as many marks to show for the game.”

Sunday said he regretted that “the bunting game” was not “down to the science that it is now there were a few of us who could have made good.”

He said when he played in Philadelphia he and Billy Hamilton could “do 100 yards in 10 seconds” and batting first and second in the order and would have benefited from more bunting.

Sunday told Wells he had no regrets about retiring when he was 27 years old to begin evangelizing:

“Of course, Billy Sunday is glad he left baseball, for he felt his duty in life lay elsewhere. While the evangelist has a large income from his preaching, and much larger than he would ever have had in baseball, it was not so when he voluntarily gave up baseball for his religious work.”

billysunday

Sunday

Sunday was paid $83 a month when he first began working at Chicago’s YMCA.

“This was true self-sacrifice on Sunday’s part, for he knew not what the future held in store for him.”

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