Billy Sunday — name sounds made up, but he was as real as real and even got put into a song, which is where most people have heard the name.
Frank Sinatra sang that Chicago was a town that even Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.
Who was Billy Sunday, really?
Turns out he was a decent White Stockings player and better preacher.
He was born into poverty in Iowa and was rescued from it by his athletic ability. He was fending for himself since he was fourteen, but good fortune smiled on him.
Billy Sunday had a street conversion in front of the Pacific Garden Mission. He then dedicated himself to Jesus and changed direction in his life. He eventually left baseball and went to work as a counselor and clerk at the Chicago WMCA.
Billy Sunday, though a drinker, supported Prohibition, railed against eugenics, and, unlike many evangelicals of the time, did not aim his bombast at the Catholic Church.
Some view him as a cartoonish Elmer Gantry type of guy, but he does not seem to fit the mold. He quit the baseball life to work at the Y for a lot less money; his wife died from MS and he had a son commit suicide, and despite dwindling audiences, he kept plugging along in his mission to save souls.
If Billy Sunday came back to Chicago, got a second spin on the blue planet, he might find himself even more energized. The politics are as bad and corrupt as always, the violence worse and more random, and there seems to be a kind of demoralized haze hanging over Chicago and the country.
Sunday hit his peak right before World War I, but the nation was ready to party in the 1920’s, and new mediums came into vogue, such as radio, and his revivals lost favor, along with his message.
Billy Sunday eventually died with his robes on, essentially, in 1935. He had a heart attack and was warned not to preach, but did so anyway, and almost literally died on the pulpit.
Today, if Sunday were standing on a street corner, he would probably be first arrested for disturbing the status quo and then shot in a hold-up for a few dollars.
Chicago is a town Billy Sunday or a month of Sundays cannot shut down, and it has gone national.