Sunday, November 06, 2005

November 6th, 1935

Billy Sunday Dies

Billy Sunday was much better known in his time than he is in ours, which is a shame, because he's an interesting figure, albeit one who is likely prone to controversy. Sunday was first recruited into baseball by Cap Anson, and was famed for his speed. Sunday stole two hundred forty-six bases we have a record of, and once dominated a footrace with Arlie Latham that was held to determine "the fastest man in baseball."

Sunday is of greater note however, for having walked away from the game at age twenty-seven to go into preaching. Sunday's version is that he was sitting on a stoop outside of a bar with Ned Williamson, both drunk, when he was invited to attend services by the Pacific Garden Mission. Sunday got up, told Williamson "Good bye, I'm going to Jesus Christ," and did just that. Sunday retired from baseball (some reports have him heroically turning down offers of $2,000 a month from teams in favor of spreading God's word but these totals are almost surely exaggerated) and began a career as a preacher.

Sunday was a "fire-and-brimstone" style preacher, noted for an emphatic style (as you can see here) warning of the evils of, among other things, evolution, liberalism and most of all, alcohol. Sunday was fiercely opposed to drinking, once declaring famously that "whiskey and beer are alright in their place, but their place is in hell." Sunday was one of the first preachers to make use of radio and this spread his national prestige as did his association with the prohibition movement.

Sunday's legacy had declined by time of his death in 1935; prohibition had been repealed in 1933 and his style was seen as out of step with the American public. He was still popular in some quarters however, and died a wealthy man--despite being the midst of the Great Depression--thanks to the many small contributions he had accumulated over the years. Sunday's reputation has been restored somewhat as the Fundamentalist movement has taken him in and his sermons are still read today.

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