Old Fashioned SABR Metrics

Facebook blankYou all know about sabermetrics, Bill James’s neologism for an analytical approach to baseball. Bill honored SABR with this coinage because SABR represented intellectual traits he admired: a dedication to research (it is, after all the Society for American Baseball Research), a conviction that significant aspects of the game are invisible to the naked eye, and a skepticism about received wisdom. In the early days of SABR many of its most skilled researchers concerned themselves not only with the relative merits of men who played in different eras but with determining who the players WERE. Hundreds of players were absolute ciphers, about whom nothing but a last name was known–a box score entry, that was all. Lee Allen and Bill Haber hunted for headstones; Vern Luse and Bill Carle scoured the squibs in Sporting Life. Today the number of major leaguers about whom absolutely nothing is known has been reduced to a relative handful, and for most men we even have a photographic or woodcut portrait. One player who resisted all efforts to go beyond a last name has been “Stine” or “Stein,” a one-gamer with the Philadelphia Athletics of 1890. 

Sabermetrics is great, but this is old-fashioned SABR metrics, hard work and enormously gratifying. Richard Malatzky, a brilliant researcher, posted this to the Nineteenth Century Base Ball Research listserv on January 6. 

It seems that half of the missing players found by the Biographical Research Committee in the last ten to fifteen years are corrections to misidentified players in the original Turkin and Thompson from 1951.

As is my habit, I was checking another 19th century one-gamer, this time Harry C. Stine, listed for July 22, 1890 with the Philadelphia Athletics. I was surprised that the box score had the spelling as Stein. A search of Sporting Life said that Stein was a left handed pitcher from the Interstate League.

It turned out that Baseball Reference had a Stein, no first name, who pitched for Dover, Delaware and Wilmington, Delaware. This turned out to be our man. He appeared in box scores in 1889 and 1890 and when he was signed by Dover it was said that he played near Trenton in 1888.

So that was 2010 and the listing eliminated Harry C. Stine and replace him with Stein, no first name. I recently subscribed to Newpapers.com and checked the Philadelphia Times for the game story. It said he came from the Lebanon, PA team. A search came up with his signing with Lebanon and it said he had been with Wilmington. His name is William Stein. So we finally had his first name.

Yesterday I was searching for an amateur in Philadelphia from the 1892 one-gamers and turned up an article about John Deasley. the manager of the Defiance baseball club, which mentioned that he signed pitcher Stein of the Hartfords. Baseball Reference had a Stein with Hartford of the Connecticut State League.

I thought that an amateur club would most likely have local players. So I checked the Philadelphia City Directory for William Stein and found five of them, including a William H., William J., and William W. A search of the 1900 census showed William H. who was born in Pennsylvania in April 1868 and two other Williams born in 1870 and 1872.

William H. was a bartender so that was the most likely one being 20 in his first year and a very common profession for a ball player.

I searched the Philadelphia Times for William H. Stein and found a 1903 article that said that the William H. Stein Base ball team of Nicetown can be reached at William H Stein, Bristol Street, Nicetown . This was a great clue.

I searched the census for our man born 1867 to 1869. He turns up in Plattsburgh, NY in the 1940 census with his daughter Isabelle Fisk and son in law Morgan Burleigh Fisk. They are in the local city directory up to 1941 and then are in Philadelphia in Fisk’s World War II draft registration.

Our man’s wife Anna died in 1933, with her husband listed as William H. Stein, and was buried in Philadelphia’s Holy Redeemer Cemetery. William Henry Stein, it turns out, was born on April 9, 1868 in Telford, PA and died November 11, 1945 in Philadelphia. He is buried with his wife.

Many missing players have been found but have taken 10 to 20 years to be verified, as their obituaries don’t mention baseball. I hope that the baseball connection here is enough.



John- Lee Allen would be very proud of you!

Thank you. That is high praise indeed.

Great to see this acknowledgement of “Sir. Richard’s” work reaching a broader circle of baseball and baseball history.

Very nice article–impressive how you continued to ‘dig’ to get the answer. Can you imagine trying that research in the pre-internet era?

Oh, some of us were doing it before the web made our work simpler. All too often, though, birth certificates, death certificates, and divorce papers require dealing with particular state bureaucracies.

Dear Sir,
This man, William Henry Stein, is my great-grandfather!!!! I am overjoyed to read this information since I have been searching for him for years. I have a photo of him with his team with the handwritten caption “Portland Conn 1891 Champions”.
Thank you so much.

Outstanding news, Lynn!

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