Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Everything Is Possible To Him Who Dares"

"The genius of our institutions is democratic - Base Ball is a democratic game."

Albert Goodwill Spalding (1850-1915)

Without knowing his full name, everyone knows of Al Spalding.

When I was 11 years old I desperately wanted to play on a little league baseball team.  But that required that I have a baseball glove.

The one I really wanted was a Spalding glove.  But it cost $10 and my mother thought that was too expensive and "fancy" for a beginner.  So I got a cheaper glove.  It wasn't as good as the Spalding, but such is life.

We associate the Spalding name with sports - equipment, balls, endorsements, you name it. 

The Boston Herald in 1880 said that next to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Al Spalding was the next most famous name in literature!  He really made his mark.

What does he mean by the democratic institutions comment?  Probably that baseball is a team game.  It is made of individuals.  Some will shine and star, others will complete the team.  But that all work together for the common goal.  If individuals don't work together the ultimate potential cannot be reached. 

Albert Spalding began his professional baseball career in 1871 as a pitcher for the Boston Red Stockings.  He was a straight-armed, UNDERHAND pitcher!  And he was good!  He played for them from 1871 to 1875, leading the league each year in pitched victories.  In 1874 he pitched in ALL of Boston's games and went 57-5 in 1875.  He also batted .320.  He was quite an athlete.

In 1876 he helped organize the National League of baseball, consisting of 7 teams in the east and as far west as Chicago.  However, pitching so often he blew out his arm and retired in 1877 at the age of 28. 

Playing his last year of 1877 in Chicago, in 1876 he and his brother started a sporting goods company where, according to the Chicago Tribune, it was "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."  He called it A. G. Spalding & Brothers.

One thing he sold was a leather baseball glove of his own design.  In 1877, while not pitching but playing first base, he wore the glove.  He had an ulterior motive in doing so - it advertised the glove, and as one of the sport's biggest stars it drove buyers to his store!

His store became the dominant sporting good store of the era.  It is still dominant today!  His company standardized the first baseballs and pioneered the modern design for the baseball bat, with it's bulging end.

A fierce businessman, he began allowing other retailers to buy directly from his catalog in 1899.  He also instituted a corporate policy of "quality, fixed retail prices, a fair profit to retailers, and consumer satisfaction." For a few years there he managed what could really be called a little monopoly!  It was short lived, however.

It seems he was a wholesaler and retailer at the same time!  

His company slogan became "Quality First."  

His company is a fine example of free enterprise finding its niche and employing itself in growth and opportunity.

The game game of baseball began losing favor among fans, called kranks.  And so, as owner of the Chicago White Stockings from 1882 to 1891, he instituted policies to clean up the game.  He forbade gambling, drinking of alcohol among players, and any form of player collusion.  By 1888 the game began to shine again.

In 1911 he wrote and published America's National Game, which is still considered the first scholarly account of the history of baseball.

Today Spalding is known for its baseball equipment, particularly balls, basketballs as the official NBA supplier since 1983 and was the first company to sign a professional to an endorsement in 1951.

Albert Goodwill Spalding was elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1939.  He became the free market example of his personal motto:  "Everything is possible to him who dares." 

That philosophy is the essence of free enterprise, a free-market economy and the kind of individualism that helped this country grow.  It cannot be created by gubment policy.  That motto's fulfillment is not possible in any other economic system.


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