*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 6th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Oh boy.

Today I have a story for you that ties together some of my favorite things- baseball, Frank Sinatra, and Church History… let’s go.

“Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town
Chicago, Chicago, I will show you around,I love it
Bet your bottom dollar you'll lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago
The town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.”

You might know this song, written by Fred Fisher in the early 1900s it became a Sinatra staple. But many have asked, who is “Billy Sunday” and why can’t he shut Chicago down?

Billy Sunday was, of course, William Ashley Sunday the former Chicago White Stockings player who left baseball for the YMCA and then to become one of the most popular revival preachers of the early 1900s and someone that another Billy, Billy Graham took as an inspiration.

Let’s hit the major beats of his life.

He was born in Iowa in 1862. His father joined the Union Army and died within months from pneumonia. Billy and his brother were then sent to an orphanage for Union widows who could not afford to raise their children.

He established himself as an athlete and played in various local baseball leagues in Iowa in the 1870s. The grandmother of Cap Anson saw him play and called her son, then the player/manager of the Chicago White Stockings to suggest he sign him. Anson met Sunday and had him challenge the fastest player on the team to a foot race. Sunday won and joined the team.

This is a slight tangent but stay with me. Way too often I see it written that Billy played for the White Sox. He didn’t. The original National League White Stockings went on to change their name to the Colts, Orphans, Rough Riders, etc… (team names weren’t official, but rather what the Sportswriters called them). When the American League started a new Chicago team they took the name White Stockings. So many of the former White Stockings/Colts left for better money in the American League and that lead the old Chicago team to be called the equivalent of the Junior Varsity team- the name for that was the “cubs team”. Hence the former White Stockings became the Cubs. Later the Chicago Football Staleys would play at the Cubs park and in honor of their hosts called themselves the Bears (bigger than Cubs).

Sunday was not a particularly good player. He did have 84 stolen bases in 1890 but his career OPS was .617 and that’s a fancy way of saying he couldn’t hit.

Sunday himself told the story of walking in Chicago and passing the Pacific Garden Mission. Hearing the hymns he heard as a small boy from his mother, he went inside and the rest of his life wouldn’t be the same. He left baseball (although, his hitting stats suggest he and baseball parted mutually) and began work for the YMCA. He was invited to preach at a revival in 1896 and lived most of the rest of his life traveling from meeting to meeting. It is thought that he is only 2nd to Billy Graham in terms of a number of “people preached to” in America. Sunday could project from his diaphragm such that large audiences could hear him without enhancement. He began moving about with tents but he was famously fastidious about the revivals physical aesthetic. Soon he began to require towns to build a temporary wooden tabernacle for him to come to preach. These would become so numerous that Billy’s colloquialism for coming down the aisle was walking “the sawdust trail”.

His style was over the top. He would tell the story of a Christian just barely being saved and illustrated this by running and sliding headfirst on the stage.

He was ordained in the Presbyterian church in 1903 but this seems to have been a formality. His theology was a fundamentalist and he reserved his harshest words for alcohol. He became a prominent prohibition speaker and his sermons and political speeches are indistinguishable. Stories have been told that his prohibition sermons were so strong that in some cases the townspeople would leave the tabernacle and close down the saloon. But despite success in some places, he was not able to gain traction in other cities- most notably, that center of Roaring Twenties madness: Chicago “that toddling town…that town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.”

Sunday was among the first of the showmen evangelists- a kind of PT Barnum meets George Whitefield. He inspired Aimee Semple MacPherson and Billy Graham claims to have made his decision to begin his crusades after a meeting with Sunday’s widow.

A colorful and controversial figure in the church, he is still beloved in certain circles and his quote about Christians and cars and garages still makes its way into sermons today - the quote being something like going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.

William Ashley Sunday died on this, the 6th of November in 1935, just weeks after attending the World Series. Born in 1862 he was 72 years old.

The last word for today comes from Isaiah 25:

On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
 a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
 of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain
 the covering that is cast over all peoples,
 the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
 and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
 for the Lord has spoken.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man born in West Lafayette but a one-time resident of that Toddlin’ town. He is Christoper Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man with a shoutout today to Zack James Cole and all the Braves fans- ooh boy, y’all slew the Evil Empire 2.0. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.