PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER, SPORTING GOODS MANUFACTURER
Albert Goodwill (A.G.) Spalding used his fame, acquired as a stand-out pitcher for the Boston Red Stockings of the fledgling National League, to create the world's first sporting goods empire. The Spalding company pioneered the sale of baseballs, footballs, basketballs, and other newly developed sports equipment beginning in the late 1870s.
The A.G. Spalding Company was built by its namesake and founder beginning in 1878. Al Spalding had been a dominant pitcher with the Boston Red Stockings between 1871 and 1876. In those six seasons, Spalding led the league in victories each year. He was the first pitcher to win more than 200 games, playing in an era when relief pitchers were virtually unknown and a starting pitcher was expected to complete the games that he begun. Spalding finished his playing career with the Chicago White Stockings, later known as the Chicago White Sox, where he both pitched and played first base.
Spalding was such a skilled pitcher that he could have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame strictly on the strength of his playing career. Spalding was enshrined in the Hall as an executive and builder in 1939.
Spalding combined his growing sporting goods business with his work as the team president of the White Sox, a position that he held for ten years. Spalding's teams won three league championships during his presidency. In 1888, Spalding organized a world tour to promote the game of American baseball to other countries, with mixed success; the tour also served to promote the Spalding sporting goods line.
Baseballs were the most important product manufactured by the Spalding Company in its early years of operation. Baseball was a rapidly growing pastime throughout America, and baseballs were a commodity in great demand. Spalding, as White Sox president, had little difficulty in persuading the other National League teams to use the Spalding baseball as the league' official baseball. Spalding provided the balls at no cost to the league, and used the endorsement provided by the National League to nationally market his product. Atthat time, the National League was the only major league, as the American League was not operational until 1901.
Baseball players in the early 1870s did not wear gloves when playing in the field, nor did catchers wear masks or protective equipment. Baseball players were expected to be hard men who could play with a measure of pain, and gloves were seen as a sissified aspect of the sport that ought to be discouraged. The earliest documented use of a glove by any player was a catcher with the Cincinnati team, Doug Allison, in 1870. While playing first base for Chicago in 1877, Spalding designed for his own use a padded, but fingerless glove, that had the appearance and dimensions of a modern cyclist's glove. The Spalding glove proved to be very popular with catchers, as there were no specialty gloves designed for use at a particular position until after 1890.
In the early 1880s, Spalding began the manufacture of an all leather baseball shoe, constructed with steel cleats. He incorporated very soft and supple kangaroo leather into the uppers of the shoe to improve fit and performance; kangaroo leather was also used by ice hockey skate manufacturers in their early products for this reason.
In 1887, Spalding perceived that the new sport of American football was likely to expand, creating a further need for its own specially designed products. Spalding developed a leather football, with rawhide laces; his ball became a standard by which others were measured.
Spalding's success with his baseball product spurred other sports equipment manufacturing innovations. In 1894, at the request of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, Spalding developed a distinct ball for use in the sport. Since the invention of basketball in 1891, Naismith had used a soccer ball for his basketball games. Spalding created a leather covered ball with a rubber bladder, designed to be both durable and with sufficient grip that it could be easily handled by the players.
In 1895, Spalding again designed and manufactured a ball for a newly developed American sport, volleyball. The first volleyball was of leather construction.
Spalding solidified his hold on sporting goods manufacture in this period through his publication of various official rule books and guides with respect to a number of sports. Baseball, as the game Spalding knew best, was the most documented.
By 1901, Spalding had established 14 sporting goods stores that sold his products exclusively; the bulk of the Spalding business was by way of mail order. Spalding extended his manufacturing processes to include any equipment required for any sport being played in America. After Spalding's death in 1915, his company continued to expand its merchandise base; golf clubs and related golf products became a Spalding mainstay. With the exception of soccer, the equipment produced today by Spalding are traditional American sports-basketball, football, volleyball, baseball, and softball.