Simply Baseball Notebook's Forgotten In Time

A.G. Spalding

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Boston Red Stockings (NA)1871-75
Chicago Cubs 1876-77

During his Hall of Fame career Al Spalding became baseball's first 200 game winner, but that was just the beginning of his contributions to the game. Following his career, Spalding worked as an executive, started the first major sporting goods business, and arranged baseball's inaugural world tour.

Albert Goodwill Spalding was born on September 2, 1850 in Bryon, IL. At that time the game of baseball was still in its' infancy, but that didn't stop young Albert from taking a keen interest in this new sport.

It wasn't long before this phenom attracted the interest of pro teams, and by 1871 he was the ace hurler of the National Association's Boston Red Stockings. In his five seasons with the Red Stockings, Spalding led the league in victories each season and Boston won four league titles.

His career in Boston was highlighted with two 50 win seasons including an impossible sounding 55-5 in 1875. During that time, he also hit over .300 four times including .354 in 1872. When he was not on the mound, Spalding would also play the in outfield, and occasionally at first base. Following the 1874 season he led two teams on a barnstorming tour of England and Ireland.

In 1876 the winds of change and progress were blowing in the world of professional baseball, namely the creation of the National League. In order to lure "the champion pitcher of the world" from Boston, Chicago White Stockings (later changed to Cubs) owner William Hulbert offered Spalding a $500 dollar raise and twenty five percent of the team's gate. He would also act as the club's manager.

Thanks to poor run support, the Illinois native lost the NL's first ever game 1-0, but he rebounded to post the league's first shutout later that month. Spalding went on to lead the league with 47 wins and managed his team to the pennant. But, thanks to years of overuse, his pitching days were nearly over.

After appearing in four games in the 1877 season, Spalding quit pitching and began playing first and second base. He would finish the season with a career low .256 batting average. The 28-year-old returned to the White Stockings the following season, but retired after appearing in only one game. He remained the team's manager through the end of the season.

In his career, Spalding compiled a 253-65 record and posted a 2.14 ERA. His .796 winning percentage is a record that will never be touched. He also hit .313 in nearly 2,000 at bats. While his playing days were over, Spalding's real career was just beginning.

In 1876, thanks in part to an $800 loan from his mother, Spalding and his brother opened a large sporting goods store in Chicago -- the first of its' kind. Using the motto "Everything is possible to him who dares," Spalding was an innovative and shrewd businessman. His first major move was to pay the National League to use his line of baseballs, which allowed him to advertise them as the "official" league ball.

Soon his company was selling everything remotely connected to the world of sports. One by one, the Spalding Co. gobbled up its' competitors, and eventually became a powerful monopoly.

To put Spalding's prominence in perspective, here is an entry from the Boston Herald during the late 19th Century:

Next to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, the name of A.G. Spalding is the most famous in American literature. It has been blazing forth on the cover of guides to all sorts of sports, upon bats and gloves for many years. Young America gets its' knowledge of the past in the world of athletics from something that has "Al Spalding" on it in big black letters, and for that reason, as much as any other, he is one the national figures of our time.

In 1882 William Hulbert died, and Spalding took over as president of the White Stockings. During that time he tried to clean up the game's reputation by enforcing strict rules on his players and banning gamblers from his park. Always a promoter, in 1888 he led the first baseball world tour. His Chicago team and a team of All Stars made stops in Hawaii, Australia, England, Italy, and Egypt. (During the game in Egypt, a pyramid was used as a backstop.)

With his business rapidly expanding, Spalding left the White Stockings in 1891 to become more involved its' day-to-day decisions. By 1900, he was held in such high regard that President McKinley named the business magnate commissioner of the Olympics.

Extremely wealthy, Spalding retired from active participation in his business in the early 20th Century. He eventually moved to the San Diego area, where he died on September 9, 1915 at the age of 65. In 1939, A.G. Spalding was inducted to the Hall of Fame.

-David Zingler, April 2004


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