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Billy Sunday
by Richard F. Stratton

I have always been bemused to note that the most ardent anti-pit dog people are proud of the famous pit dogs that are in their dog’s pedigree. I guess even humaniacs realize that pit dogs are “good guys” and phenomenal athletes, even if they don't agree with that sort of thing.

One of the best of all time was Billy Sunday, and he lived before I was born. (Despite claims to the contrary, that does not mean it was before the Cretaceous! Incidentally, while I am being silly here, let me point out something that everyone seems to have missed. The dynamite movie Jurassic Park was misnamed. The featured animals were mainly from the Cretaceous Era, not the Jurassic. I just thought you would want to know.)

Billy Sunday was named after a fire-and-brimstone preacher who lived in the early part of the 20th Century and was quite famous. I believe that Sinclair Lewis used Billy Sunday as inspiration for his very famous novel about a flamboyant preacher in his book Elmer Gantry. I have always been taken with some of the inventive names that have been given pit dogs, from Boiler to Boomerang to Tombstone. It only seems fitting that the best dogs should have the best names, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. One of the great all-time dogs was simply named “Fred.” But even “Fred” is better than some of the lengthy names given show dogs.

But back to Billy Sunday. If we could but go back far enough, he would be somewhere in nearly all our dogs= pedigrees, but since he was born in 1925, he would be way back there. Only a few dog men that I knew had ever seen him, but Ham Morris had, as had Howard Heinzl. The dog was whelped in St. Louis, and dogs didn’t travel around as much in those days (much like people) as they do now. As far as I know, Billy Sunday ended up with Harry Clark in Cincinnati. The only bad thing I ever heard about the dog is that he didn’t produce well. However, that comment is made about nearly all great dogs. Dog men expect a “chip off the old block” from a once-in-a-lifetime type of dog, and that is rarely going to happen. By definition, such dogs are rare, even when sired by that type of dog. The same is true of race horses. Secretariat never produced his equal, but that shouldn’t be surprising to us. Nevertheless, if we want that kind of horse (or dog, as the case may be), the only way to get it is by breeding the very best animals.

Billy Sunday was an eight-time winner, and the phenomenal thing about him was that he won his last match in 1932 (when I was a year old). That means that Billy Sunday was seven years old at the time, definitely past the prime of most dogs. Billy Sunday was reputed to be a master of the pit, a dog that had it all, offence, defense, and great pit intelligence. Nor was his intelligence limited to the pit. According to Ham Morris, who knew a thing or two about animals, Billy Sunday was so smart he thought he was a person, and he just about had everyone else convinced, too. According to Ham, both Smith and Clark kept the dog in the house as a treasured pet. This quite often happens with phenomenal pit dogs that are especially treasured. I think that is one reason Bulldogs are good pets, as compared to other performance dogs.

Billy was one of the fastest scratching dogs ever seen. He was the type that would knock the dog and the handler right out of the pit if he got the chance. His path across the pit made it seem as though he had been launched by a catapult. With a pit weight of 41 pounds, Billy only once went over the hour mark, one hour and fifteen minutes. The dog was so famous for his ability that it was difficult for his handlers to find challengers. The dog was bred by Charles P. Smith who bred Smith=s Nellie to Lingo=s Nailor, Jr., a highly-prized dog of the time. . Billy was a pied-colored dog, with dark around the eyes. Although I am known as a red dog man, I think that this is actually my favorite coloration. Maybe it is because great dogs, such as Jimmy Boots and Gimp, were colored that way.

Billy Sunday was a classy pit dog that was a legend in his time. It is only fitting that we remember him. He was the epitome of everything that a good Bulldog should be. People are usually forgotten within twenty years of their death. Isn’t it great that we still hear about a great dog that lived over eighty years ago?