NORMAN ‘TURKEY’ STEARNES
Position: Outfielder, 1923-1942
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 175 lbs.
B/T: Left, Left
Born: 1901 in Nashville, TN
Died: 1979 in Detroit, MI
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2000
Like a whisper in a hurricane, this slender, southpaw slugger has been unnoticed, unheralded, unappreciated and underrated. This quiet performer is the Negro Leagues' best kept secret. A fivetime All-Star selection to the East-West All-Star Classic in Chicago, the modest Stearnes was known as a home run hitter with scorching speed. With his head bobbing, arms flapping and chopping galloping strides, Stearnes ran the bases like a hunted turkey. But this bird was no treat for any fielder or pitcher. Like any Thanksgiving strider, Stearnes had a quick first step and could change directions going full speed.
"He had a stance worse than (Yankee shortstop) Gil McDougal or (White Sox outfielder) Minnie Minoso or (Cardinal outfielder) Stan the Man. But he was one of the greatest hitters we ever had. He was good as Josh," sung Satchel Paige. Without a doubt, Turkey Stearnes is the greatest black player in Detroit baseball history. If there was an all-time Detroit outfield, he would join Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Al Kaline in the pasture.
He joined the Detroit Stars in 1923 and hit .365 with 17 dingers, one behind league leader Oscar "Heavy" Johnson. Stearnes eventually won, or shared, six home run titles, in 1924 (10), 1925 (18), 1928 (24), 1931 (8), 1932 (5), 1940 (5). "I never counted my home runs," Turkey said of his bloodpressure home runs, "If it didn't win a game, it didn't matter."
In 1932, now a Chicago American Giant, Stearnes incredibly won the Quadruple Crown, leading the Negro Southern League in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases. A feat never duplicated in the white leagues and only once before in the black leagues by the great Oscar Charleston.
Unofficial records show that Stearnes hit .342, .374 and .430, from 1933 to 1935, with the American Giants. With his combination of power and speed, he just may be the best lead-off man in baseball history, including the exciting Rickey Henderson. During his career, Turkey quietly gobbled up three batting titles, in 1931 and 1939 with .350 averages and in 1935 with a career high .430.
In Negro League history, only Willard Brown has won as many batting titles as Stearnes. "That man could hit the ball as far as anybody. But they don't say too much about him," said Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell. Bell rapped, "And he was one of the our best all-around players. He could field, he could hit, he could run. He had plenty of power."
Stearnes finished his active career in 1941 with the Kansas City Monarchs. Afterwards, he played briefly for the local semi-pro Detroit Black Sox and ended his Hall of Fame career, at age 44, with the Toledo Cubs of the newly formed United States League, by Branch Rickey, in 1945. His trophy collection includes three batting championships and six home run crowns, an unquestionable record that belongs in Cooperstown. "If they don't put Turkey in the Hall of Fame," Cool Papa Bell screamed in mock anger, "they should take me out."