Al Spalding Baseball Facts and Stats by the Baseball Page
When most people hear the name Spalding, they think of sporting goods, and especially baseballs. But Al Spalding meant much more to baseball then simply giving his name to an implement of the game.
Albert Goodwill Spalding was born in Byron Illinois on September 2, 1850. Spalding started playing baseball at a young age, and in 1865 he started playing competitively with a youth team called the Rockford Pioneers. He was asked to join another team, the Forest Citys after pitching the Pioneers to a heavily run-supported win, 26-2.
After 2 years with his second team, Al was signed to play for his first “professional” team, the Chicago Excelsiors. The fact that he was actually signed to a $40 a week contract as a clerk was just a technicality. This was a fairly common practice of the time, since professional players were not allowed to be hired.
Spalding played his first legitimate professional baseball when he joined the Boston Red Stockings (eventually to become the Braves franchise of Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta), as part of the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, later to be known simply as the NA. While with the team, Al had a record of 205-53, with a batting average of .323.
A few years later, William Hulbert founded the National League of Baseball Clubs. Hulbert was the owner of the Chicago White Stockings (ironically later to become the Chicago Cubs), and was disenchanted with the NA and its affiliation with gambling. He asked the help of Spalding, knowing of Al’s desire to get back to his Midwestern roots and of his respect for the integrity of the game. Spalding signed to play with the White Stockings in 1876 and he convinced three of his former teammates, along with two players from the Philadelphia Athletics to join him. Since all players were considered free agents at this time, these player moves had to be done in complete secrecy during the season to avoid arousing the ire of the organizations, and especially the fans. When the news finally came out, all the players involved suffered verbal abuse, including threats of physical violence, by fans of both the Boston and Philadelphia teams.
Hulbert and Spalding then when on to expand the league, bringing on board the “western” teams in Cincinnati, Louisville, and Indianapolis to join the eastern franchises in New York, Boston, Hartford, and Philadelphia. This signaled the birth of today’s National League, as the NA slowly faded into oblivion.
In the meantime, Al enlisted the aid of his brother to open a sporting good’s store in Chicago. Always the astute businessman, Al started wearing a baseball glove in 1877. He was the first well-known player to do so, and of course the sale of gloves started booming in his store. The White Stocking won the first pennant in the newly formed league in 1876, with Spalding being a major contributor to the team’s success with 47 wins.
Al continued to do his best to help his growing business. In the first rules of baseball guide, which he published, he stated that Spalding balls were the only balls that should be used. Apparently, all previous balls that were used were not up to snuff. Spalding retired from baseball as a player in 1878, with a winning percentage of .796, the highest ever. However, he continued to be a major contributor to the game as owner of the Chicago franchise.
In order to promote the game (and of course his sporting goods stores), Spalding organized a world tour of baseball player. From 1888-89, after making stops along the west coast, the tour went on to New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, France, and England. The tour was an incredible success, and included players later to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Adrian “Cap” Anson and John Montgomery Ward.
In 1900, Al was given the great honor of being named the USA Commissioner of the Summer Olympics. By 1901, Spalding had 14 of his stores nationwide. Soon after, the franchise expanded into the manufacture of baseball equipment and of course is still going strong.
Al Spalding is also responsible for giving credit for the invention of the game of baseball to Abner Doubleday. Al was not happy with a report written by baseball historian Henry Chadwick that baseball had its origins from the British games of cricket and rounders. Spalding felt that the game HAD to be an original American invention. He then created a “commision” to investigate. This commission asked anyone who had any information on the origins of the game to send in letters. On December 30, 1907, one such letter was received which stated that Abner Doubleday was the inventor. The commission’s findings were that “Baseball had its origins in the United States” and “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best available evidence to date , was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York in 1839”. (Never mind that Doubleday was a cadet at West Point at that time).
In 1911, Spalding combined the baseball archives of Henry Chadwick with his own thoughts. Even allowing for misleading “facts”, including the supposed invention of the game, his “America’s National Game” is still considered the first important account of the history of baseball.
Al Spalding died on September 9, 1915 in San Diego California, his legacy as one of the great pioneers of the game of baseball complete.
- Al Spalding, Boston Red Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, Hall of Fame, National Association of Professional Base Ball Players