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Worthington 150: It was Billy Sunday vs. Satan in 1906

One night he ran smack-dab into a group of evangelists while staggering out of a saloon. He was converted on the spot. Since then he traveled all across the country preaching the gospel and convincing sinners to “get right with God.”

Chautauqua Park
File photo
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WORTHINGTON — Billy Sunday, the famous rip-roaring evangelist, descended upon Worthington like a Midwestern twister on Dec. 8, 1906. Thousands of local residents flocked to the tabernacle to hear the “man with a message” who fought the enemies of God, America, motherhood and hard work single-handed.

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They loved his broad smile, his boyish figure in the natty suit, his exaggerated grimaces, gestures and antique poses. Hundreds made The Decision and walked down the aisle to shake Billy’s hand and commit themselves to Christ. He had come to save Worthington, and few doubted he had failed after his month-long crusade ended.

Four things he made clear. “First, I love God. Second, I love humanity. Third, I am doing the best I can to help you — I’m here to fight — I’m here to fight ’til hell freezes over, and then I’ll buy a pair of skates, and fight it out on ice.”

And fight he did. He would work himself into a rage against the devil until sweat poured from his forehead. Then he would shed his coat, vest and tie, roll up his sleeves and continue the battle crouching, jumping up and down, shaking his fist, and running back and forth across the stage.

From 1883 to 1890, Billy Sunday played baseball with the Chicago White Stockings. He was the team’s fastest runner and although he did not hit exceptionally well, once on base he was bound to zip home by stealing. One season he stole 95 bases.

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One night he ran smack-dab into a group of evangelists while staggering out of a saloon. He was converted on the spot. Since then he traveled all across the country preaching the gospel and convincing sinners to “get right with God.”

Billy never forgot baseball. At times, he played the sinner trying to slide into heaven like a ball player. He would run the length of the stage and put on a fantastic hook slide.

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The line went, “Lord, there are always people sitting in the grandstand and calling the batter a mutt … O Lord, give us some coaches out at this Tabernacle so that people can be brought home to you. Some of them are dying on second and third base, Lord, and we don’t want that.”

He also lashed out at the cheapskates who were too tight to pay for religion. The size of the collection determined a community’s real intentions. Charlie Won, local Chinese laundryman, never understood what the collection was for. Once he asked, “Who this man, Jesus Clist, who all-a-time bloke?”

Billy always had a profound effect upon the communities he visited. Worthington was no exception.

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