America's National Game/Chapter 31

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WILLIAM A. SUNDAY

CHAPTER XXXI.

BASE BALL AND RELIGION—BILLY SUNDAY AS PLAYER AND PREACHER—ANECDOTES OF THE INTEREST CHURCH PEOPLE TAKE IN THE NATIONAL SPORT—THE RELIGIOUS EDITOR'S REPORT OF A GAME.

IT CANNOT be claimed for Base Ball that it is essentially religious, either as to its features or its objects. During the history of the evolution and development of the pastime, magnates, managers, even players, have been known who were not conspicuous examples of personal piety. So far as the sport has developed any religious side whatever, it can be said of it that, thus far it has avoided sectarian bias or control—though it must be confessed that it escaped that once by only "the skin of its teeth."

While all this is true, it will not be denied that about every religious cult known has had representatives among its votaries. Perhaps the term "Pan-denominational" might properly be employed to describe its constituent elements. Moreover, that word seems to be useful as suggesting the Pandemonium which has sometimes characterized its councils and its exploitation. During my long connection with Base Ball I have known among its managers and players Agnostics, Baptists, Catholics, Dunkards. Episcopalians, Fanatics, Mormons, Gentiles, Israelites, Hebrews, Jews—but why go through the entire alphabet to show that the game has within its ranks Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers and all the rest? Everybody knows that.

However, it is of interest to know that churchmen, of high and low estate, have been as fanatical in their love for Base Ball as they have been zealous in their religious predilections. Billy Sunday, who seems to be about the most successful evangelist in the Presbyterian Church, was converted while playing ball professionally, and it is said that his contracts from that time on eliminated Sunday ball for Sunday.

The following special telegram, from the Hoosier capital, tells of Billy's work in the early days of his evangelistic career:

"Indianapolis July 12, 1904.—'Billy' Sunday, who was known in Base Ball circles years ago as the renowned outfielder of the Chicago Club, is doing missionary work in the Indiana gas belt towns and is talking to crowds of laboring people every night. He has become as widely known as an evangelist as he once was as a Base Ball player, and though it is many years since he was associated with Anson, Pfeffer, Kelly, Burns and others who made up the Chicago aggregation, he often refers to his old chums and the kind words they gave him when he determined to reform.

"He is telling the story of his conversion and the happiness the new life has brought him to Indiana audiences every night and, incidentally, he has woven into his addresses the story of how prayer, as he verily believes, saved a game of Base Ball. As he tells the story, the fight for the pennant was between New York, Chicago and Detroit that year, but it finally narrowed down to the two last-named cities, and the final bout with Detroit came. The score was close. Everybody was excited and the players were nerved to the highest pitch by the great responsibility that rested upon them.

"'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 that it 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 following news item, from the San Diego, Cal., Sun, 1911, seems to prove that Rev. "Billy" finds his evangelistic work garners financial returns as well as converts:

"Billy Sunday is Sure Getting It.

"Erie, Pa., July 20.—William A. Sunday, quondam professional Base Ball player, now professional revivalist, closed the evangelistic season of 1910-11 here the other day $70,507.77 to the good as a result of his year's work 'winning souls to Christ.'

"This return for about ten months' work, more than the President of the United States has drawn for the same time, is evidence that from a monetary standpoint, evangelistic work is more profitable than playing professional Base Ball. The Rev. Mr. Sunday recently refused an offer to go back to the 'majors' once more. The inducement was but $500 a month.

"Seven thousand a month looks better to Billy. Besides he thinks he can do more good in the world preaching than playing ball!

"During the past season Billy Sunday broke all evangelistic records for money earned. It brings the cost of Sunday's services to about $2 a 'convert.'"

In point of dogma it is a far cry from the tenets of Evangelist Billy Sunday to those of Cardinal Gibbons, but since both are identified with Base Ball in their personal records, Billy as a player, and the Cardinal as a "fan," the placing of their names in juxtaposition here may not appear as an ecclesiastical inconsistency.

Some years ago the Baltimore team visited St. Charles College at Ellicott City, Md., where, in the presence of Cardinal Gibbons, Bishop Curtis, of Wilmington, Del., the faculty of the college and a number of visiting Catholic priests from Washington and Baltimore, they gave an exhibition of professional ball playing. The feature of the occasion was the comments on the game made by the Cardinal at the dinner given to the players in the college refectory, of which the following paragraphs are worthy of special note as being a valuable endorsement of the merits of professional Base Ball as exhibited by the most expert exemplars of the game known to the National League in 1896. The Cardinal said:

"I am not what you might call a crank, but I am surrounded (referring to a number of clergy seated at the same table with him) by several excellent critics of the game, some of them even being well enough versed in the pastime to lay claim to the title of authorities. From them I have learned the merits of Baltimore's Base Ball players, and, without hesitation, say that these young men, who have obtained such prominence in their chosen profession, are worthy of the praise bestowed upon them, and both the State and city can well afford to be as proud of their achievements as they themselves no doubt are.

"Let me say," he continued, "that I favor Base Ball as an amusement for the greatest pleasure-loving people in the world. It is necessary that there should be popular amusements, and in consequence it is wise that the most generally patronized of these amusements should be innocent, since, were the opposite the case, the opportunity of committing sins of greater or less degree would be too openly set before the public. Base Ball is a clean sport. It is an innocent amusement. Never have I heard that the games were being used as vehicles for gambling, the most insidious of vices, and this one fact alone raises it above the level of the average sporting event. It is a healthy sport, and since the people of the country generally demand some sporting event for their amusement, I would single this out as the one best to be patronized, and heartily approve of it as a popular pastime."

The Cardinal's words were listened to with the closest attention by the players and the clergymen, who had remained in the room after the body of students had filed out. He finished in silence, but his words had made a deep impression on his hearers, and especially upon the players, not one of whom could find words sufficient to thank him for the glowing eulogy of the national game that he had delivered. The Cardinal displayed the greatest interest in the game, toward which he had been looking forward for some time, and which was arranged especially for him at his invitation. The curving of the pitched ball attracted his attention at the outset, and he spent some time in investigating the phenomenon from behind the wire screen. No detail of the game escaped his watchful eye.

The following reprint from the Chicago Tribune, in 1906, is presented as showing what a strong hold our national game has upon some very excellent and highly religious people, whose counterparts live in every village and city in America:

"Rev. Mr. Perkins (so-called because that isn't anything like his real name) is one of the shining lights of the Episcopalian Church in Chicago, a man noted for his high ideals and his good works.

"Rev. Mr. Perkins has a son who strayed into strange ways, and finally wound up as a Base Ball reporter—and a corking good one. Indeed, he is almost as well known in his line as his reverend father is in his.

"The son never laid any claim to being wise in his father's line, but Rev. Mr. Perkins always has had quite an idea that he would have made quite as good a Base Ball reporter as minister.

"Thereby hangs a tale. Last year the son was an ardent and faithful supporter of the Cubs. His heart was with Comiskey, but he couldn't see how Commy's bunch ever could beat Murphy's crew. His father, who attends Base Ball as often as there is no service, or meeting of the guild, was a wild and woolly admirer of the Sox, and one of the most ardent believers that they could beat anything on earth. And at home, instead of starting a discussion on higher criticism, the father and son debated strongly upon the relative merits of the South and West Side teams, and the debate waxed hotter and hotter as the post-season series came nearer.

"Comiskey heard of it, and was so tickled that he sent the minister seats for all the post-season games—and it is stated that the church services during that week were adjusted to fit the post-season schedule—up to Sunday.

"Rev. Mr. Perkins witnessed all the games, but on Sunday he was absent. It is stated that the afternoon services were cut short and that within a minute after pronouncing the benediction he was at a phone inquiring the score.

"And that night he wrote to Comiskey a letter of congratulation, and at the close he said:

"'It appears to me unfortunate both for myself and my church on this occasion that I was forbidden by my calling to wager upon the outcome. Otherwise I should have won enough to pay off the parish debt.'

"There was another fan who, on that memorable Sunday afternoon when the Sox clinched their claim for the world's pennant, suffered. He is one of the best Base Ball cranks in Chicago, a rooter for the Sox and an ardent supporter of Comiskey. He has the good fortune (although he didn't think so that day) to have a good and pious wife, who is one of the leaders in a little church up in Edgewater. This fan isn't particularly religious, but he respects and admires his wife's stand in the matter, and during fifteen or twenty years of married life has assimilated more or less of her belief and feelings.

"The post-season series, however, was too much for him. He attended five games and admits that he was planning to attend morning services with his wife and make a sneak to the ball park in the afternoon. Luck, however, was against him. A special afternoon service of great importance was announced, and his hope of seeing the deciding game evaporated. He knew he could not offer any excuse that would satisfy his wife, and that a plain explanation meant to hurt her feelings. So he decided to make a martyr of himself and attend the special service.

"It is not believed that the service did him much good. His mind was away down on the Base Ball field.

"He was sitting there, picturing the great throng on Commy's park, the excitement, the noise, the enthusiasm, and pulling hard for the Sox to win.

"He wasn't even giving a thought to what was going on in church, and twice his wife had to pull his coattails to get him to stand up.

"Suddenly he saw Deacon Morris arise and tiptoe into the vestry. He knew there was a telephone there, and for five minutes he had been wondering if he dared slip out and ask what the score was.

"About five minutes later Deacon Morris tiptoed back up the aisle, smiling, and sat down just across the aisle.

"The fan slipped along the pew, leaned out, and an instant later the worshipers in the surrounding pews heard him ask in a stage whisper:

"'What's the score?'

" And without a flicker of hesitation Deacon Morris whispered back, so he could be heard by half the church:

"'Sox got 'em beat in the sixth.'

"For just an instant everybody looked startled, and then the minister, whether by accident or design, no one knows, remarked:

"'Let us sing the long meter doxology.'

"But there is a minister out on the Northwest side who made himself one of the most popular men in the district on that same Sunday afternoon, when all Chicago and most of the world waited to hear the news.

"There was a meeting of the Bible class called for 4.30 in the afternoon. This class is the biggest thing in the church, and almost all the men and women, especially the young ones, are members.

"That Sunday afternoon the lecture room of the church was crowded—and the minister was late. He usually started things off, and then turned over the meeting to the class itself, explaining and helping only when needed or called upon. So the meeting was opened without him.

"Shortly thereafter he came in, red from rapid walking, and beaming with smiles. He sat down until the hymn was finished, and then, walking forward, remarked:

"'Ladies and Gentlemen: I have glorious news for you. The White Sox are champions of the world—I stopped to learn the score, feeling that we could study better if we knew.'

"And the class broke into cheers."

Some twenty odd years ago the local department of the Brooklyn Eagle happened to be rushed with work during the absence of the Base Ball editor, and it was found necessary to assign the religious editor to the task of writing up the Base Ball match of the day at the Capitoline grounds. The writer in question went to the game, watched the contest to its finish, and the next morning sent in the following report:

"A very refreshing season of Base Ball was experienced in the Capitoline Vineyard yesterday afternoon, affording exceeding unction to a congregation of fully two thousand souls. Brother Murphy, of the Brooklyn Class, first wielded the rod, even as did Moses at the rock of waters, and smiting the ball with prodigious smite was richly blessed with two bases. It then became the blessed privilege of Brother Fitzgerald to stand forth, but, despite his most fervent efforts, Divine Providence interfered with a foul tip, and the brother harvested naught. During this season Brother Murphy had experienced a change of bases, garnering unto himself the third thereof, whereat there was great rejoicing, mingled with lamentation and rending of garments among the disciples of the conflicting tribes. At this critical point in the salvation of the class Brother Maloney came among them as a physician of souls, but the sheaves of great rejoicing were not for him. Like Jacob he wrestled, and like Nathan he fell, for his adversaries were plenteous and their wisdom that of the serpent, forasmuch when he smote the ball so that it soared they that were as Philistines unto him did congregate around about that the ball might not escape them, and did hold forth each man his hands, until their fingers in number were like unto the lilies of the valley, and they seized the ball and bore it thence in triumph."

On reading the story before sending it out to be set up, the city editor called the writer to the desk, and asked him, as he handed him the report :

"What's all this got to do with the game I sent you to write up?"

"Anything the matter with it?" asked the writer.

"This is no way to write up a ball match."

"Why not?" queried the writer indignantly. "That's the way they did it," he continued, "and that's my way."

"But, man alive," resumed the editor, "this reads like a sermon."

"What if it does," was the reply. "Have you any objections to sermons? If you don't like my style of writing the game up you had better send some secular cuss to the next game when the old man is absent."

The report was sent in and it created quite a sensation for the time being.