“Al” Spalding, Albert Goodwill (1850-1915)
Albert Goodwill “Al” Spalding (1850-1915)
Baseball player and sports entrepreneur
Baseball Pioneer. Albert Goodwill Spalding, the son of an Illinois farmer, is regarded as the “organizational genius of baseball’s pioneer days” and the game’s first great pitcher. He began playing baseball as a youngster and at age sixteen began pitching for the Rockford Forest Cities (Illinois), gaining a reputation for his fastball and exceptional batting. In 1871 Harry Wright recruited Spalding for the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association. Earning $1,500 annually, he led Boston to four consecutive pennants from 1872 to 1875. In that time Spalding won 207 and lost 56 games, becoming baseball’s first 200-game winner. He also posted a batting average of .320. In 1876 he joined the Chicago White Stockings of the newly formed National League. As pitcher, captain, and manager of the team, Spalding earned $4,000. He also assisted William A. Hulbert, the owner of the White Stockings and president of the National League, in drafting the constitution for the league, in which he insisted that alcohol and gambling be barred from the game. Spalding pitched only one season for Chicago, winning 48 and losing 13 games, while leading his team to the pennant in 1876. After playing first and second base in 1877, he retired in 1878 but remained an advisor to the team.
Sporting Goods. In 1876 Spalding and his younger brother James Walter opened A. G. Spalding & Brothers, a sporting-goods store in Chicago that sold team uniforms and baseballs. In 1878 the Spalding baseballs became the official game ball (and continued to be the official game ball until 1976, when Rawlings became the official manufacturer). In late 1877 the Spalding brothers entered the publishing business, producing Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide. Edited by Henry Chadwick, the Baseball Guide was the official source for the history of the game. Spalding published pamphlets and guides to other sports. After the death of Hulbert in 1882, Spalding became president of the Chicago White Stockings, which won five National League pennants during the 1880s. Following the 1888 season, he organized a world tour of the nation’s best baseball players. In London Spalding opened a branch of his sporting-goods firm and began importing bicycles and golf clubs to the United States. In the 1890s he sold basketballs as that newly invented sport gained national popularity.
Later Career. Spalding resigned as president of the Chicago White Stockings in 1891 but remained the organization’s principle stockholder. He went into real estate, founded the Chicago Athletic Club, and helped plan the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. After the death of his wife in 1899, he remarried and moved to Point Loma, California. In 1903 Spalding helped negotiate the National Agreement between the American and National Leagues and, in 1905, headed a special commission to determine the origins of baseball; the commission wrongly claimed that the game was uniquely American. Spalding ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1910 and died at age sixty-five in 1915. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball: From the Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System (University Park & London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983).
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