Executives: Albert Spalding

I love the mustache. I wish mine could hold up on its own, but then again, I’d look like my dad. Scratch that thought.

Albert Goodwill Spalding was born on September 2, 1850 in Byron, Illinois. His family was very rich, but when his father died in 1858, the family moved away to Rockford. Not knowing anyone and trying to keep loneliness at bay, Spalding started playing baseball, and he became so good that the Forest Citys, a very good amateur team. Soon, the Chicago Excelsiors held a tournament in which Spalding beat the Washington Nationals, and the Excelsiors brought him aboard. When Harry Wright developed the National Association, he brought the young pitcher with him. Besides being one of the National Association’s best pitchers, he and Wright worked together to promote different tours through England to promote the game.

Spalding was an excellent pitcher. While in Boston, he ran off seasons of 38, 41, 52, and 55 wins utilizing a good fastball/changeup combination. However, the National Association had its vices — namely drinking and gambling — , and Spalding severely disapproved. In response, Spalding and others helped form the National League in 1876. He would be part of the first Chicago White Stockings team, and in his first and only season as a pitcher, he again won over 40 games (47 to be exact). Spalding was also the team captain. The next season, in 1877, he curiosly switched positions and became a full-time first baseman, but the team suffered, going from first to fifth. After one game in 1878, he retired from playing at age 27.

The next step in his journey was to the White Stockings front office. Spalding became the secretary (back then, secretaries were often the heir-apparent to owners/presidents and not what we think of them today), and following the death of of president William Hulbert in 1882, he became president. The White Stockings, under his leadership, won pennants in 1882, 1885, and 1886. He would be one of the first teams to utilize Spring Training when they went to Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1886. In the scope of all of baseball, he organized worldwide tours, building on successes he had in England.

All along, Spalding had another profession — sporting goods. He and his brother Walter used his fame to quickly build up the company, which began in 1876. Within a few years, outlets of his store were spread across the country.

Then came labor unrest. Spalding, an owner, was always in favor of promoting the “reserve clause”, but by 1890, the Brotherhood, one of the first players’ unions, threw a fit. They created the Players Association, but Spalding deftly crushed the league and created a monopoly on professional baseball. This grip would be held for another 13 seasons, but the foundation he laid was in use much longer.

One of his most influential moments, if not his most misguided, was his creation of the Mills Commission. Henry Chadwick had written an article stating that baseball came from a British game. Having spent his life making baseball an American game, Spalding, a good friend of Chadwick’s, butted heads with his friend. The Commission found its answer in a letter saying that Abner Doubleday invented baseball. Despite several flaws, Spalding and the Commission adopted the fairy tale.

In 1915, he died of a stroke but not before leaving $600,000 for his family (about $12 million by today’s standards, but I imagine he would have made a lot more if were around today).


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