My friend Richard Malatzky–SABR’s supersleuth in genealogical research–wrote to me the other day:
John, here is something you may want to share online. I know that you put in a great effort to identify obscure players for Total Baseball so here is a reversal of something Peter Morris, Bill Carle, and I did several years ago regarding Sterling of the infamous game of October 12, 1890.
Early in September 1890, the Athletics of Philadelphia of the American Association went bankrupt. Rather than following the path of minor league clubs and folding, they started letting go of their more well-known players and signed several local minor leaguers … plus some whom we still cannot identify.
I noticed on a research trip to the Hall of Fame Library in 1979 that the Heilbroner books which listed the addresses of all of the umpires had a John F. McBride living in Phillipsburg, NJ but it later turned out that he would have been around 10 years old in 1890 when he is thought to have played in his one game on October 12, 1890. I checked the other missing players from the box score on that game who were listed in the I.C.I. (Macmillan) Baseball Encycopedia of 1969: George Crawford, Sweigert, James (“General”) Stafford, and John Sterling.
Years later I discussed this topic with Morris and Carle and we decided to delete the first names of the four players for whom the Baseball Encyclopedia had supplied them..
There has been a long discussion over many years about the construction of the Baseball Encyclopedia from the earlier Official Encyclopedia of Baseball compiled by Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson (1951, with subsequent editions). Our theories have been verified by Dick Thompson, who worked with Tom Shea, who had more to do with the I.C.I./Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia than with that produced by Turkin & Thompson.
Tom Shea told Dick Thompson that Turkin & Thompson were disappointed that there were so many blanks in the book … so they put in incorrect names and biographical info from places like the Sporting News so that the book would seem less empty. Most of the work that SABR’s Biographical Research Committee has done recently has been correcting Turkin & Thompson.
Morris has been completing so many projects recently that we had worked on together, with great help from Newspapers.com, that I thought that if I put in the same effort I might find some missing players.
The most info that we had among these five was for Sterling. First of all, the Athletics played Sunday games in Gloucester City, NJ, from August 1888 forward. Sunday, October 12, 1890 was the last game of the season, against Syracuse. The starting pitcher for the A’s was a Camden pitcher wearing an unusual black uniform. The original listing (T&T and Baseball Encyclopedia) of John Sterling had been changed so we didn’t have any leads because of lack of access to Camden papers in 1890.
I searched the Times of Philadelphia for “Sterling P” in hopes that a boxscore would have a pitcher named Sterling. I found that Lancaster had a Sterling into midseason A look at the minor-league section of baseball-reference.com showed a John A. Sterling who was with Ashland, PA in 1888, Philadelphia in 1889, and Lancaster for 14 games in 1890. I also found an 1888 roster of Ashland with John A. Sterling. Another article in 1888 says that John Sterling had to go back to Philadelphia because he was sick.
I searched the Philadelphia CDs for John A. Sterling and found him listed in 1888, 1890, and 1899, all as a blacksmith. I searched in New Jersey and found one in 1891 in Camden, also a blacksmith. The listing had him residing with a Henrietta. I looked for Henrietta Sterling in the 1870 census and found his family there in Philadelphia: father Jesse, and John born 1865 in Pennsylvania.
So what do have here? Sterling was from Camden and John A Sterling was living in Camden at the correct time. He was married to Maggie A. and they had a son born in Pennsylvania in 1890 (from the 1910 census) and there was a stillborn child in Gloucester City in early 1891. The other children were born in NJ.
He died November 10, 1908 and Peter Morris found an obit in Billboard that says he died in Gloucester City, NJ, was a minstrel for years (thus explaining the Billboard notice of his death) and in his youth was a baseball pitcher with Minneapolis and Albany.