Spalding’s Hall of Fame plaque acclaimed him as the “organizational genius of baseball’s pioneer days” and as a star pitcher. As a teenager in the 1860s, Spalding played for the Forest City team in his hometown of Rockford, IL, where he gained a reputation for his straight-armed, underhand fastball and for his hitting. He went to work for the National Association Boston Red Stockings in 1871, and soon was hailed as the “champion pitcher of the world.” Through 1875, he compiled a 207|56 record to become baseball’s first 200-game winner. Boston won four consecutive NA pennants from 1872-75, with Spalding leading the league in victories each year; in 1874 he pitched all of Boston’s games, and in 1875 he went 57-5. He also played in the field, batting .320 in the NA.
Spalding and several other players were then lured from Boston to become the heart of the National League Chicago White Stockings (later known as the Cubs). On Opening Day, April 25, 1876, Spalding pitched the NL’s initial shutout (the first of his eight that year), and had three hits in Chicago’s 4-0 win over Louisville. He lost the league’s first 1-0 game to St. Louis that May 5, but also received some lusty support, winning one game 23-3. He finished the season with a league-leading 46 wins, losing 12, and managed his team to the pennant.
The arm strain of years as a workhorse pitcher soon took its toll. Spalding played mostly at first base in 1877, pitching only four games. He retired at age 28 to devote himself to his sporting-goods business. In February 1876, the Chicago Tribune had announced Spalding’s opening of a “large emporium in Chicago where he will sell all kinds of baseball goods and turn his place into the headquarters for the Western Ball Clubs.” His company, eventually named A.G. Spalding & Brothers, emerged as the era’s dominant sporting-goods firm. Spalding proved a skilled businessman, capitalizing on his fame as a ballplayer. His motto, “Everything is possible to him who dares,” guided his company’s growth. With a fierce drive to succeed, he became a captain of industry and created a tight monopoly.
From 1882 to 1891, Spalding served as president of the Chicago team. He sought to improve baseball’s image around ballparks by reducing rowdiness and eliminating the influence of gamblers. Chicago, meanwhile, emerged as the decade’s powerhouse, winning five pennants.
A skillful diplomat and first-rate organizer, Spalding promoted baseball’s interests nationally and internationally, and simultaneously further his own sporting-goods enterprises. In 1874 he arranged a tour of England and Ireland for two baseball teams, and in 1888-89 led the first world baseball tour. His Chicago team and a squad of all-stars performed at such stops as Hawaii, Australia, Egypt, Italy, and England. A pyramid served as a backstop for one of the games. Spalding was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1939, the year the Hall opened.