From famous ball-player to famous evangelist, William Ashley “Billy” Sunday is still remembered today for his energetic preaching style and large, successful evangelistic campaigns across the United States. In his lifetime, Billy Sunday addressed over 100 million people without the aid of loud speakers, TV, or radio.
We are sharing information from billysunday.org, where you can hear audio recordings of Billy Sunday’s sermons, as well as purchase books about his life and ministry.
Billy grew up in poverty. A sickly child, he often had to be carried on a pillow. But when he grew stronger, he became as hard a worker as any prairie children. Billy’s mom remarried, but his step-dad was an alcoholic who eventually abandoned the family. Billy wound up in an orphanage. Later he became involved in amateur athletics and attracted the attention of the Chicago White Stockings. Sunday gained nationwide recognition for his prowess as a baseball player. He became the first player to run the bases in 14 seconds, and set records for stealing bases.
After he became a major league baseball player, Billy used to hang out in saloons. Once, when he’d been out drinking, he heard some gospel street singers, and at the Pacific Garden Mission, he asked Jesus to take charge of his life. He began to study the Bible and eventually quit baseball to become secretary of Chicago’s Y.M.C.A. Then he moved on to organize J. Wilber Chapman’s evangelistic services. When Chapman left to be a pastor, Billy took over the meetings.
Billy Sunday organized his evangelistic staff like a vaudeville business–with advance men, secretaries, a choir, and local volunteers. He raised expenses in advance of his tent meetings. Billy’s talent for the dramatic drew thousands to see his antics and hear his rapid-fire delivery and pantomimes of fighting the devil.
Shortly after being Saved through the outreach of the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Sunday turned down a $400 per month baseball salary (at a time when the average worker made $480 per year) for a $84 per month ministry position. Ball teams later offered $500/month and even $2000/month, but Sunday remained committed to his ministry for God. Later in life he was offered $1,000,000 to be in the movies, but again declined in order to continue the evangelistic ministry God had called him to. He passed away after a heart attack in 1935 at age 73.