Billy Sunday Biography

(The Most Influential American Evangelist During the First Two Decades of the 20th Century)

Birthday: November 19, 1862 (Scorpio)

Born In: Story County, Iowa, U.S

Billy Sunday was best known for his participation in the baseball National League during the 19th century and his agility on field. Despite coming from a financially weak family, he did not let his humble economic condition overpower his life and managed to make his way to the field, doing all sorts of odds jobs in between. As an athlete and a major league participant, he was dexterous, passionate and extremely lithe when it came to base-running and hitting. What stunned fans around the world was his sudden adoption of evangelical Christianity in the 20th century and his eventual digression from the sport he loved so much. As an evangelist, he was celebrated for his dramatic sermons and feverish oratory skills; one that attracted thousands of followers from around America, when there were limited or no sound systems. He was also a regular at social events, where he became popular among the wealthy and the influential. Through his long and fruitful career, he preached to over one million people head-on and even though his popularity diminished towards the final years of his life, he is still considered one of the most influential American evangelists.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 72


Spouse/Ex-: Helen Thompson Sunday (m. 1888)

father: William Sunday

mother: Mary Jane Corey

children: George Marquis Sunday, Helen Edith Sunday, Paul Thompson Sunday, William Ashley Sunday Jr.

Born Country: United States

Quotes By Billy Sunday Baseball Players

political ideology: Republican

Died on: November 6, 1935

place of death: Forest Home Cemetery, Chicago

U.S. State: Iowa

Ideology: Republicans

More Facts

education: Nevada High School

  • 1

    What was Billy Sunday's occupation?

    Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player before becoming a prominent evangelist.
  • 2

    How did Billy Sunday become famous?

    Billy Sunday gained fame through his dynamic preaching style and his strong stance against alcohol during the temperance movement.
  • 3

    Where did Billy Sunday hold his evangelistic campaigns?

    Billy Sunday held his evangelistic campaigns in various cities across the United States, often in large tents or specially constructed tabernacles.
  • 4

    What impact did Billy Sunday have on American society?

    Billy Sunday played a significant role in shaping American society by promoting moral values, advocating for prohibition, and influencing the course of the Progressive Era.
  • 5

    How did Billy Sunday's background as a baseball player influence his later career as an evangelist?

    Billy Sunday's experience as a professional athlete helped him develop a dynamic and energetic preaching style that captivated audiences and drew large crowds to his evangelistic meetings.
Childhood & Early Life
William Ashley ‘Billy’ Sunday was born to William Sunday and Mary Jane Corey, near Ames, Iowa. After the death of his father in 1862, his family moved to live with his grandparents for a few years.
Billy and his elder brother were sent to live in Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, where he received a decent primary education and also began to hone his athletic skills.
At the age of 14, with a will to earn money of his own, he started working under Colonel John Scott. Soon, he was offered a home with the Scotts, who made sure that Billy studied at Nevada High School.
Despite not receiving a high school diploma, he was already considered well-educated by the standards of others, by 1880.
He moved to Marshalltown in 1880, where he was employed with the fire brigade team for his athletic build. It was during this time that he began playing for fire brigade baseball tournaments and eventually joined the town’s baseball team. His first match was two years later, where the town team defeated the Des Moines team.
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His professional baseball career began in 1883, when he signed with the Chicago White Stockings, a National League team.
Initially, he started off as a part-time player, but was soon recognized for his speed and by 1887, made a regular right fielder. However, an unfortunate injury limited his games to about 50.
For the 1888 season, he was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys team. This was the first time that he played the whole season. The crowds in Pittsburgh took to his prowess on the field, thus creating a large fan base.
In 1890, he was named the team captain of the Pittsburg Alleghenys, but with a bad season, the team could not afford him and he was, thus, sold to the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he played a total of 31 games.
In 1891, he was released from his contract with the Philadelphia Ball Club, but still remained one of the greatest baseball players in the United States. In his best season, he ranked 17th in the league and had hit .291.
Meanwhile, he started attending the Christian services at the mission and soon converted himself to become a Christian. Shortly thereafter, he gave up swearing, drinking and gambling.
It was in 1891 that he turned down a baseball contract and instead accepted a position with the Chicago YMCA.
In 1893, he became an assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman, one of the most influential evangelists. He received a course in homiletics and turned to the pastorate three years later.
He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1903. The next decade witnessed Sunday’s popularity rise by leaps and bounds. Such was his escalating popularity that his followers failed to accommodate in town halls and churches.
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Just as his fan base expanded, so did the administration responsibilities. In 1908, he entrusted all the campaign and administrative responsibilities to his wife, Nell Sunday. It was under her administration that his campaign became a prominent national phenomenon.
By 1910, he regularly conducted meetings in relatively smaller cities in the United States. However, in the next five years, he moved his meetings to the more commercial cities of the country including Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and even New York City.
By 1917, he had become extremely popular among the rich and affluent and was invited to events by politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and even personalities like Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.
Even during the Great Depression of 1929, he managed to pull large crowds to attend his preaching and sermons through his campaigns. However, his campaigns had started to become insipid and his popularity slowly began to fade post-World War I.
Through his evangelist career from 1896 to 1935, Sunday preached about 20,000 sermons.
Awards & Achievements
He received the National League Pennant for baseball, for two consecutive years - 1885 and 1886.
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Helen Amelia ‘Nell’ Thompson at a time when both of them were in serious relationships respectively. However, just as they say destiny plays a part of its own, the two eventually broke off their relationships to unite with each other.
Financial differences did not come in between as the two eventually tied the knot on September 5, 1888. They were blessed with four children, three sons and a daughter
In 1935, he suffered a heart attack. Though the doctors advised him to be cautious about preaching with such delicate health, he paid no heed and continued to preach. He breathed his last on November 6 of the same year.
His obituary described him as ‘the greatest high-pressure, mass conversion Christian evangelist of America or the world has ever known’.
Facts About Billy Sunday
Billy Sunday was known for his energetic preaching style, often using humor and theatrical gestures to engage his audience.
He was a former professional baseball player before becoming a prominent evangelist, bringing a unique perspective to his ministry.
Billy Sunday was an avid supporter of the temperance movement, advocating for the prohibition of alcohol during a time of widespread alcohol abuse in the United States.
Despite his serious dedication to his faith and preaching, Billy Sunday had a lighthearted side and was known to enjoy playing practical jokes on his friends and colleagues.
He was a pioneer in using modern marketing techniques to promote his evangelistic campaigns, utilizing newspapers, posters, and other media to reach a wide audience.

See the events in life of Billy Sunday in Chronological Order

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