Sunday, September 13, 2009

Albert Spalding

Sports fans and writers have often waxed poetic about the days when baseball was played by men who had a true love for the game that exceeded any selfish purpose. But one does not have to look very hard for examples of men who scored financially in the early days of baseball.

One of the most well-known baseball pioneers was Albert Spalding who was born in 1850 in Byron, Illinois. Spalding was the Bill Gates of Baseball. He was a leading figure in the business of baseball and made a fortune from the game.

Albert Spalding was a superbly gifted player who held the most important position on the field – that of pitcher. In the early days of a baseball, a good pitcher could have a huge impact on the fate of a team most every day. Pitchers were work-horses. Many teams only had one pitcher on their roster.

Spalding had natural arm strength that was present as a young age and he would continually thwart opposition hitters in the 1870s. As a premier player, he commanded a higher salary than most men would know and he used his money wisely. He started his professional career with the Boston Red Stockings when the first professional baseball association was formed in 1871. Spalding led his team to championships from 1872-1875. In 1876, he joined up with William A. Huthbert President of the Chicago White Stockings – a team that would eventually go on to become the Chicago Cubs.

Huthbert along with other like-minded men had formed a new National League that included teams from larger cities who were interested in seeing baseball run more as a business with business management discipline. Spalding was in his element when he came to Chicago to play and then manage the Chicago team. Spalding was a man “on the make” in a city that was built by men such as him. Spalding had endless energy and he drove himself to become richer and more successful than anyone else around him. Spalding was one entrepreneur who never took his eye off the prize – the prize of becoming as powerful a man as his talents and cunning could make him.

Seeing a great opportunity in providing baseball equipment to the growing sports industry, he organized A. G. Spalding & Bros. Company along with his brother J. Walter. They obtained the right to produce the official National League baseball, which helped launch his brand to thousands of baseball fans. He opened up a sports store in Chicago, which he eventually expanded into a chain. Spalding also published baseball guides and had ownership interest in baseball teams. Still a young man, he left the playing field to focus on his sporting good business in 1876.

Spalding became baseball’s goodwill ambassador to the world and also had a strong interest in reforming the game by fighting against gambling and disreputable behavior at the parks and on the teams. Always competitive and driven to succeed, he could also be very tough on players and those who he perceived as threats to his position and standing. Spaulding was a man who made the most of baseball and did much for the game. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.