Albert G. Spalding, Pitcher, Boston. Click to enlarge.

Albert G. Spalding


By Eric Miklich


LBERT SPALDING had three exceptional careers in baseball. He became the best pitcher in professional baseball. After starting his own sporting goods business while still a player, he retired soon after and built the most dominant sporting goods business in America. His influenced was used to help start the National League and then used to help extinguish two rival leagues competing with National League. He then became the most influential person in baseball and was essentially the governing body of the National League into the 19th century. He seemingly was behind the decisions that the National League made regarding maintaining their attempted monopoly on baseball and would also have the distinction of spear heading the ridiculous myth about Abner Doubleday and the origins of baseball in American.

Spalding started playing baseball for a junior nine in Rockford, IL from 1863 to 1866. He played first base and then became a pitcher and in 1866 he pitched for the Forest City Club of Rockford. He helped defeat the powerful Nationals of Washington, 29-23, during their famous 1867 Midwest tour in which they would finish the trip at 9-1. In that game, Spalding would only allow the Nationals to score more than five runs once and "whitewash" them in three different innings. The next day the National would play the Chicago Excelsiors, Forest City's rival, and lose 40 to 4. The Nationals would score five or more runs in five of the nine innings and amass 21 runs in the third inning. Spalding was then lured by the Chicago Excelsiors for the beginning of the 1868 season and was given a $40 per week job as a grocery store clerk.

Legend Harry Wright brought Spalding, at a salary of about $2,000, and Ross Barnes, Spalding's shortstop on the 1867 Forest City Club, to Boston to play for the Red Stockings during the inaugural season of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871. Spalding would lead the league in wins with 19, but Boston would finish second to a solid Philadelphia Athletics club. In 1873, Harry Wright having visions of his 1867-1870 Cincinnati Club took Boston on an August tour of Canada. The Red Stockings would win all 14 games and outscore their opponents 524-48 but the gate receipts barely covered the traveling expenses, which did not please the stocker holders.

In the winter of 1873, after only having played three years of truly professional baseball, Harry Wright selected his star 23 year-old pitcher, Albert Spalding, to sail to England and to garner interest for a baseball tour featuring the Boston Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics. The tour did little to raise interest in England and was not a financial success and again angered the stocker holders.

Albert Goodwill Spalding. Click to enlarge.

For the final four seasons of the NA, Spalding would lead the league in wins and the Red Stockings would finish first. In 1875, Boston would finish 71-8 and Spalding would achieve a career high 54 wins. During that season he also had personal winning streaks of 22 and 24 games.

During the National Association's five year existence Albert Spalding was its best pitcher. He was the first professional pitcher to win 50, 100, 150 and 200 games and finished with a 207-56 record. He also finished fifth in hits.

During the National Association's final season in 1875, William Hulbert approached Spalding and asked him to play for him in a newly forming league. Even though Spalding was still under contract with the Red Stockings, Hulbert who was the President of the Chicago White Stockings and soon to be founder of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, convinced Spalding to leave Boston at the end of the season. Hulbert offered Spalding $4000 and a quarter of the gate receipts to be the pitcher, captain and manager of the White Stockings. Once Spalding agreed to the contract Hulbert used Albert's influence to help recruit three other Red Stocking players and then took him to Philadelphia to sign another formidable player, Cap Anson.

In 1876, Albert Spalding, along with his brother Walter and an $800 advance, opened a small athletic equipment store in Chicago. On the playing field, Spalding would lead the National League in wins with 47 and with the White Stockings winning the first NL championship; Spalding won his fifth straight championship. He became the first professional pitcher to win 250 games.

Spalding ventured into the print media and first published a league book which contained the baseball constitution, previous season's statistics, the current playing rules and the next season schedule in 1877. The booklet was entitled 1877 Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. This annual guide would continue to be printed well after the turn of the century and during the 19th century Spalding would use this forum to help voice his opinions on the players, state of the game and the direction that the game should follow. He retired from baseball as a player after only appearing in one game in 1878 to pursue the lucrative market in baseball products which he created. He would end his playing career with a pitching record of 252-65, for a .795 winning percentage and a .313 batting average. There has been no pitcher in the history of baseball to compile the pitching record of Albert Spalding and he also became the fist pitcher to win 250 professional games.

Spalding became the White Stockings secretary and Hulbert's right hand man in 1878. The Spalding became the official ball used by the National League in 1878 and he supplied the NL with free baseballs and gave them one dollar for each dozen that they used. In 1878 he also published the first official Spalding's Base Ball Guide. He employed Henry Chadwick, who was the premier baseball writer and carried the title of "Father of the Game," to edit his annual guide. The Spalding Sporting Goods Company paid the NL a fee for exclusive publishing rights. In 1879, Spalding opened a bat factory. During the 1880's, he bought out many of his competitors but continued to sell sporting goods under their original brand names to give the illusion of competition. Spalding was reportedly turning a million bats per year by 1887. Starting in 1899, A. G. Spalding & Bros. allowed other retailers to order directly from their catalog. In 1891, Spalding had ten large factories located in different parts of the US, where are manufactured vast quantities of athletic goods; such as uniforms and clothing for sportsmen's wear, baseballs, tennis balls, athletic suits of all kinds, bicycles, boats, fishing tackles, sporting shoes, and an endless variety of gymnasium outfits. He had 14 branches in the United States selling his vast line of sporting goods.

Albert Goodwill Spalding. Click to enlarge.

He employed more than 3,500 people by 1896, and had plants scattered across the eastern half of America. Spalding eventually bought Wright & Ditson, a sporting goods manufacturer out of Boston and the maker of the Players' League Official Base Ball, A.J. Reach, a sporting goods company out of Philadelphia and the maker of the official baseball for the American Association and Peck & Snyder, a popular sporting goods manufacturer out of New York.

After William Hulbert's death in April 1882, Spalding became the owner and President of the Chicago White Stockings at the age of 31. In April of 1891, he stepped down from the Chicago Colts; the nickname was changed in 1890, to concentrate on his sporting goods business. During his tenure in Chicago's front office, his teams never finished below .500, finished first five times, second four times, third twice and fourth three times. His White Stockings tied the St' Louis Brows 3-3-1 in the 1885 World's Series and lost the 1886 World's Series to St. Louis, 4-2. In 1892, the first year without Spalding's direct involvement, Chicago finished in seventh place and under .500. Spalding sold the club in 1902.

Albert Spalding started the trend which exists today of a player who's personality and view change once they attain a high profile front office position. Spalding simply despised the baseball player. He felt that their excessive drinking, gambling and malicious behavior as well as the fans, helped fell the National Association. He wanted clean upstanding players to promote and mold the game. Being a very successful business man, Spalding had no tolerance for the players and forget that he was once a top player. He wanted robots to play baseball and foresaw a steady stream of income from baseball and did not want that opportunity ruined. He felt that the league and its officials knew what was best for the players and that they were a necessary evil.

Spalding urged NL clubs to hire a detective agency to follow the players and file weekly reports. He wanted to improve the social standing of the players and particularly the drinking habits of many players. When some player's on Spalding's club violated his "no liquor" policy, he hired a detective to shadow those players. Seven players were addressed by Spalding and fined enough to cover the expense of the detective's services.

Bob Ferguson was hired to captain the 1878 White Stockings. After finishing fourth, he was fired and replaced by Adrian "Cap" Anson. Spalding later spoke harshly of Ferguson and despised how he handled the players below him.

Spalding had a very influential voice in 1886 when the Eastern NL clubs, headed by Boston Beaneaters owner Arthur Soden, threatened to leave the league. The visiting team received 15 cents on every 50 cents admission but the Eastern owners wanted a guarantee of $100 per visiting club. Spalding explained to Soden that the League would go on without them. In the end an agreement was reached that gave all visiting clubs were guaranteed $125, except on state and national holidays when the admission totals were split fifty-fifty.

After losing the 1886 Worlds Series to the American Association's St. Louis Browns, Spalding sold his star player, Mike "King" Kelly, to the Boston Beaneaters for a monumental sum of $10,000. The 1886 NL batting champion was loathed by Spalding for his life style and constant maintenance. He also shipped centerfielder George Gore to the New York Giants. After the 1887 season Spalding shipped John Clarkson, the NL's top pitcher, again to the Beaneaters and also for $10,000. The cantankerous owner disliked the high-strung pitcher and did not want to have his manager Cap Anson's ego compete with Clarkson's. At the end of the 1889 season both the New York Giants and the Boston Beaneaters finished ahead of the third place White Stockings.

Albert Goodwill Spalding. Click to enlarge.

The NL formulated the reserve clause on September 29, 1879, in Buffalo, NY Spalding as well as other “baseball people” felt it was a way for the owners to help keep salaries manageable by not attempting to out bid each other for star players. This severely limited the player's right to attain the most money as "free-agents." This ruling by the NL owners further distance themselves from the players and eventually lead to the formation of the Union Association, the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players and the 1890 Players' League of Base Ball Clubs. With the reserve clause instituted each team was allowed to reserve five players for the 1880 season, 11 players in 1883, 12 players in1886 and 14 in 1887.

Because of the reserve clause and the general mistreatment of base ball players, National League star player John Montgomery Ward had secretly formed the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players along with fellow ball players in 1885. On November 11, 1886, the Brotherhood held a general meeting in NY which made its existence official. National League President Nick Young, prompted by Spalding, contacted Ward and asked for a meeting to hear the Brotherhoods objectives. Spalding wanted to maintain his income in the baseball business and wanted no competition.

League officials were secretly planning to further impose authority over the players and were waiting to unleash the Salary Classification Plan, devised by John T. Brush owner of the Indianapolis Hoosiers. This plan rated players and assigned salaries to each level. A player given an "A" rating received $2,500, a "B" player received $2,250, a "C" player received $2,000, a "D" player received $1,750 and an "E" player received $1,500. The plan was announced in November 1888, and not until Brotherhood founder John Montgomery Ward had left America on Spalding's 1888-1889 world tour baseball tour. Spalding organized a five-month barnstorming trip from November 1888 to March 1889. Ward outraged by the Salary Classification Plan thought about returning to America but was persuaded to stay on the tour by Spalding.

Albert's purpose of the baseball tour was to open the eyes of the world to the baseball products he manufactured and sold. He chose clean-cut players so as not to give the wrong impression of baseball to the potential customers he was about to reach. One team was Spalding's Chicago White Stockings and the other was a "picked nine," headed by John Montgomery Ward. The world tour stopped at thirteen countries and every continent. Games were played in Honolulu, Australia, Colombo, Cairo, Rome, Paris, the British Islands and America. Spalding had to constantly mediate differences between Ward and Cap Anson, the captain of the White Stockings.

In March of 1889, while playing in Paris, Ned Williamson; Chicago's regular shortstop, attempted to steal second after a walk and injured his knee. Williamson's wife was on the trip and brought him to a hospital in Paris. He was told by doctors that a few days rest would heal the injury, but that was not the case. The teams arrived in London and Williamson played one more game, but was still in tremendous pain. While the tour was completed Williamson remained in a London hospital. After returning to America, Williamson was still ailing and did not play until August. After returning to the field Williamson had lost several steps and in 47 games in 1889, managed only 5 extra base hits in 173 at bats and hit .237. Because Williamson played few games in 1889, Spalding deducted $800 from Williamson's season pay and then had the audacity to charge Williamson $500 for his wife's "accrued world tour expenses." Because of Williamson's popularity with the players of the National League, instances such as this helped add fuel the fire for the players to form their own league in 1890, called the Players' National League of Base Ball Clubs. Williamson would play one more season in the Players' National League's only season and hit .195 for the Chicago Pirates.

Albert G. Spalding. Click to enlarge.

When the tour was complete, Ward in June of 1888, urged the NL owners to re-consider their harsh measures and asked to talk the issue out. The owners stalled and the players announced that they may strike. In September 1889, it was leaked that the players had a more effective solution. Spalding asked the Brotherhood for a meeting but Ward refused, citing the NL's stall tactics in June. Ward announced that the players intended to form their own league for the 1890 season in October. Seeing another rival league compete with the NL and the possibilities of lost revenue, Spalding threatened his reserved players with injunctions to stop them from moving to different teams. The Players' League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was formed on November 5, 1889.

Spalding was elected to the NL's three man "War Committee." Through the print media he defended the reserve clause and attacked the PL. A team was even placed in Chicago, which further irritated Spalding. He had been successful in keeping the American Association (1882-1891) out of his city and the Chicago Browns of the 1884 Union Association only lasted until August before they moved to Pittsburgh and finished the season as the Stogies.

Spalding hired people to check the attendance counts of the PL, who claimed that they out drew the NL. The New York club was hit hard and the owner claimed he needed $80,000 or would be forced to sell out to the PL. Spalding took out $25,000 worth of stock and other owners also bought stock and the NY franchise was saved.

At the end of the 1890 season all three leagues suffered great financial losses. Three Players' League owners requested a meeting with Spalding and John B. Day, owner of the NL New York Giants, in October. Later, owners of the American Association joined in the talks. In the end the Players' League was dissolved and Spalding even bought the PL's Chicago team for $18,000.

There should be little doubt that Albert Spalding saw the great income difference between being a player and a manufacturer and distributor. He retired at a time when he was unequalled as a pitcher and began a career that did not have and would have no limits on the amount of money he could make. He represented baseball in America and throughout the world and was extremely influential in its growth as his products were sold here and abroad. Spalding was the National League and fought to propagate the business in spite of the players and rival leagues.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old Timer's Committee in 1939.