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Albert Goodwill Spalding

(1850—1915)


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(1850–1915)

A US baseball player, a successful and specialist pitcher during the early years of the professional game, who established a company that produced baseball equipment for the national league. He was the first player to be hired as a professional by the Chicago Excelsiors, and on the formation of the first professional association in 1871, joined the Boston Redstockings, for whom he played for five years. He led the Chicago White Stockings to the first ever national title, retiring in 1876 before managing the team to national victories and gaining the rights to produce the official National League baseball. With his brother, Spalding opened the Chicago-based sporting goods business, A. G. Spalding & Bros, which, with its slogan ‘Quality first’, had fourteen stores by 1901 and a national network of companies that used the Spalding catalogue as a basis for their trade, Spalding having moved into manufacturing as well as retail. While running his business, Spalding promoted the Chicago White Stockings, and initiated reforms within the game, countering gambling, condemning drinking, and eliminating player collusion. He also confirmed the rules of the game, and international promotional tours were organized to exhibit the USA's cleaned-up national game. Spalding was US commissioner at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, at the bequest of the US President William McKinley. His international exhibition tour climaxed on returning to the USA in a grand parade and banquet in New York City, attended by popular war hero and soon-to-be president Theodore Roosevelt. In 1905 Spalding established a commission to investigate the origins of baseball, which in 1907 declared the game to have been invented by Abner Doubleday, a claim that has never been corroborated but came to act as a powerful foundational myth relating to the distinctive national game. His America's National Game was published in 1911, perpetuating this myth.

Spalding is more than an outstanding pitcher in the early history of baseball, or an opportunistic entrepreneur in the expanding sport and leisure markets of the USA; he is a figure who embodied the cultural and economic aspirations of an emergent nation as expressed in the cultivation of its distinctive sporting forms. It is figures such as Spalding who ensured that baseball, and not, say, cricket, became the national game of the USA:Though baseball and cricket both began as relatively informal leisure games in the United States, baseball was later blessed by a cadre of brilliant entrepreneurs determined to make it the “nation's pastime.” One such person was A. G. Spalding, star player, manager, league organizer, and sports manufacturer. To call Spalding an impresario or a marketing genius would be a bit of an understatement. He engaged in every part of the game, from promoting star players and intercity rivalries to squelching nascent efforts at labor organization among players'. (Jason Kaufman and Orlando Patterson, ‘Cross-National Cultural Diffusion: The Global Spread of Cricket’, American Sociological Review, vol. 70, 2005).

Though baseball and cricket both began as relatively informal leisure games in the United States, baseball was later blessed by a cadre of brilliant entrepreneurs determined to make it the “nation's pastime.” One such person was A. G. Spalding, star player, manager, league organizer, and sports manufacturer. To call Spalding an impresario or a marketing genius would be a bit of an understatement. He engaged in every part of the game, from promoting star players and intercity rivalries to squelching nascent efforts at labor organization among players'. (Jason Kaufman and Orlando Patterson, ‘Cross-National Cultural Diffusion: The Global Spread of Cricket’, American Sociological Review, vol. 70, 2005).

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Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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