William Ashley (Billy) Sunday was born on his grandparents' farm just south of Ames, Iowa, on November 19, 1862. Martin and Mary Ann Cory settled there in 1852 on land now occupied by the Highway 30 and Duff Avenue interchange, and the old sewage treatment plant. The Cory family cemetery is still located on that site.
Billy Sunday and his two brothers were orphaned when their father became an early Civil War casualty, and life for the family was a struggle despite Mary Jane Sunday's remarriage in 1864. The boys attended a one-room school (Clearview School) just west of the farm where their teacher, C.G. McCarthy, first instilled a love of baseball. Mary Jane offered her sons love and nurturing, but after her second marriage ended in divorce, and a third union to an itinerant carpenter provided little family support, the two younger boys, Billy and Ed, were placed in orphanages. Billy returned to the Cory farm when he was fourteen, but differed with his grandfather to the extent that he chose to live on his own. He moved to nearby Nevada, Iowa, where he became acquainted with Colonel John Scott, a leading citizen and the state's Lieutenant Governor.
Billy Sunday attended Nevada High School, also working as a janitor and doing chores for Colonel Scott, who provided him with room and board. He continued to play noteworthy baseball in Nevada, and in Marshalltown where he moved to take a job in a furniture shop. In Marshalltown he was discovered on the city team by Adrian Anson, captain of the Chicago baseball team then known as the White Stockings (today known as the Cubs). Billy rose to the major leagues in 1883 after trying out for the team. He remained a professional baseball player from 1883 to 1890 for Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. He even held the National League record for running bases in fourteen seconds. His record of ninety-six stolen bases in one season was exceeded only by Ty Cobb's mark of ninety-eight.
By 1891 he had begun to divide his time between baseball and the Chicago Y.M.C.A. The spirit of his mother's nurturing love and his religious training in the orphanage were reawakened and influenced Sunday to change his life. Turning down an offer of $500 a month to play with Cincinnati's National League Club, Billy accepted an $85 a month job with the Chicago Y.M.C.A. His reputation as a ball player provided natural appeal to the young men he worked with. He attended Northwestern University where the study of Psychology reinforced his love of people and contributed to the mastery of audiences. After three years with the Y.M.C.A., he went to work with J. Wilbur Chapman, well known Presbyterian evangelist. Billy Sunday's first platform appearance was in Garner, Iowa, in 1896. There he first became aware that his direct, sincere manner of speaking got through to people.
In 1903 he was ordained into the mainline Presbyterian denomination of his day. He became known as the Baseball Evangelist, using his baseball background, slangy language, flamboyant manners, and highly developed promotional methods to become the most popular evangelist of his time. It won't save your soul if your wife is a Christian. You have got to be something more than a brother-in-law to the Church.
Sunday lived at a time when American society was in the mood for the idealism Sunday expounded. He was supported and sought after by U.S. presidents and community leaders throughout the country. His trademarks were pointed, sometimes earthy and always quotable one-liners, and theatrical antics at the podium. I know there is a devil for two reasons; first, the Bible declares it; and second, I have done business with him.
Billy Sunday urged his audiences to become active in the church and he believed the church should be active in social issues. I don't believe that God wants any man to be a hermit. Jesus Christ did not wear a hair shirt and sleep upon a bed of spikes. He went among the people and preached the Gospel.
Though conservative by some standards, he advocated women's right to vote, labor unions, and sex education. Many people disagreed with his theology, but they supported his down to earth style and his position on moral problems. If you would have your children turn out well, don't turn your home into a lunch counter and lodging house. Billy Sunday died on November 6, 1935 at the age of seventy-three, ending one of the most remarkable careers of the twentieth century, supposedly preaching to over 100 million people in his many tent revivals. He was buried in Chicago.
Billy Sunday said, Paul said he would rather speak five words that were understood than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. That hits me. I want people to know what I mean, and that's why I try to get down where they live. What do I care if some puff-eyed, dainty little dibbly-dibbly preacher goes tibbly-tibbling around because I use plain Anglo-Saxon words.
They say to me, "Bill, you rub the fur the wrong way." I don't; let the cats turn 'round.
It isn't a good thing to have synonyms for sin. Adultery is adultery, even though you call it affinity. The seventh commandment is not: "Thou shalt not commit affinity."
A church is not dropped down on a street corner to decorate the corner and be the property of a certain denomination.
Whan a baby is born, what do you do with it? Put it in a refrigerator? That's a good place for a dead chicken, and cold meat, but a poor place for babies. Then don't put these new converts, "babes in Christ," into refrigerator churches.
Don't give a pug-nosed bulldog the love a baby ought to be getting.
I don't believe there are devils enough in hell to pull a boy out of the arms of a godly mother.
It is not necessary to be in a big place to do big things.
I'm against everything that the devil is in favor of.
The carpet in front of the mirrors of some of you people is worn threadbare, while at the side of your bed where you should kneel in prayer it is as good as the day you put it down.
Some homes need a hickory switch a good deal more than they do a piano.
The Church gives the people what they need; the theater gives them what they want.
Your reputation is what people say about you. Your character is what God and your wife know about you.
If you took no more care of yourself physically than spiritually, you'd be just as dried up physically as you are spiritually.
If nine-tenths of you were as weak physically as you are spiritually, you couldn't walk.
The man who lives for himself alone will be the sole mourner at his own funeral.
Character needs no epitaph. You can bury the man, but character will beat the hearse back from the graveyard and it will travel up and down the streets while you are under the sod. It will bless or blight long after your name is forgotten.
All that God has ever done to save this old world, has been done through men and women of flesh and blood like ourselves.
Nearly everybody is stuck up about something. Some people are even proud that they aren't proud.
God likes a little humor, as is evidenced by the fact that he made the monkey, the parrot -- and some of you people.
Yank some of the groans out of your prayers, and shove in some shouts.
Don't look as if your religion hurt you.
If you want milk and honey on your bread, you'll have to go into the land where there are giants.
The Bible was not intended for a science any more than a crowbar is intended for a toothpick. The Bible was written to tell men that they might live, and it's true today.
Reaching the audience with music was a very important part of Billy Sunday crusades. Listen to Billy Sunday's theme song, Brighten the Corner Where You Are (mp3 format).
Billy Sunday website -Includes timeline of his life.