Summary

Birth:
08 May 1901 1
Death:
Sep 1979 1
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Personal Details

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Also known as:
Turkey Stearnes 2
Full Name:
Norman Stearnes 1
Birth:
08 May 1901 1
Death:
Sep 1979 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Detroit, MI 1
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Occupation:
Negro League Baseball 2
Race or Ethnicity:
African American 2
Social Security:
Card Issued: Michigan 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-7724 1

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Stories

Talking Turkey Stearnes was one of the greatest leadoff hitters in Negro Leagues

If you think Tony Batista's batting stance is unorthodox in the Major Leagues, you should have seen Norman "Turkey" Stearnes when he stepped into the batter's box in the Negro Leagues. Stearnes, who was a left-handed hitter, had an open stance with his right heel twisted and his big toe pointed straight up.

That unorthodox style at the plate prompted Negro League teammate Satchel Paige to remark years later that Stearnes' stance was "worse than (Yankees infielder) Gil McDougald, (White Sox outfielder) Minnie Minoso and (Cardinals outfielder) Stan the Man (Musial)." But Stearnes' style at the plate didn't stop him from being one of the best power and leadoff hitters in Negro League history.

Best known for his years in the Negro National League with the Detroit Stars from 1923-31, Stearnes won six home-run titles, slugged at least 140 home runs and was a perennial .300 hitter during his 20-year career. Even more amazing: A past-his-prime Stearnes still managed to play in four of the first five East-West All-Star Games in the 1930s.

Nicknamed Turkey because he ran the bases like the animal, Stearns was one of the fastest runners in the Negro Leagues. Nobody knows for sure how many bases he stole, but he was known to leg out his share of doubles and triples.

Stearnes accomplishments were not recognized until the Committee on Baseball Veterans voted him into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

"He was one of the greatest hitters we ever had," Paige reportedly said. "He was good as Josh (Gibson)."

Born in 1901, Stearnes had to start working at age 15 after his father died, but he still pursued his baseball dreams. Like most Negro League players during that period, Stearns was a walking vagabond. His Negro League baseball career started with the Nashville Elite Giants in 1920. The following season he joined the Montgomery Grey Sox before defecting to the Memphis Red Sox in 1922. The next season Stars manager Bruce Petway convinced Stearnes to join the roster, and it was in Detroit where Stearnes became known as an all-around outfielder who, according to historian James A. Riley in his book The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, "would slide hard into an infielder trying to apply the tag."

Even though he was one of the Stars' best players, Stearnes had a second job working for the Briggs Manufacturing Company. When the Stars couldn't afford to pay him after the 1931 season, Stearnes jumped ship and joined the Chicago American Giants. He helped Chicago win two pennants in his four years with the team. Stearnes returned to the Stars briefly in 1933 and ?37 and also spent time with the Philadelphia Stars, Detroit Black Sox, Toledo Cubs and Kansas City Monarchs. Stearnes, in fact, made a significant contribution to the Monarchs, helping them win consecutive pennants in 1940 and '41.

After his career ended, according to The Biographical Encyclopedia, Stearnes returned to Detroit and worked in the rolling mills in 1964. He died 15 years later in the town where he became a superstar.

Bill Ladson is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. 

Norman "Turkey" Stearns

Career: 1923-1942
Positions: cf, lf, 1b
Teams: Nashville Elite Giants (1920), Montgomery Grey Sox (1921), Memphis Red Sox (1922), Detroit Stars (1923-1931, 1933, 1937), New York Lincoln Giants (1930), Kansas City Monarchs (1931, 1934, 1938-1941), Cole's American Giants (1932-1935),Philadelphia Stars (1936), Chicago American Giants(1938), Detroit Black Sox (1942) Toledo Cubs (1945)
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Height: 6'   Weight: 175
Born: May 8, 1901, Nashville, Tennessee
Died: September 4, 1979, Detroit, Michigan
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2000)

A left-handed power threat, Turkey Stearnes played "long ball" for twenty years in the black major leagues. After three seasons with teams in the Negro Southern League, Stearnes joined the Detroit Stars in 1923 and was credited with swatting 35 home runs in his Negro National League debut, followed by 50 home runs in 1924. These totals were for achieved against all levels of opposition, as were his 35 homers in 1937. In addition to hitting the long ball, Turkey was a great outfielder, with good speed and range. He also utilized his speed on the bases, leading the league in both triples and stolen bases at least once each during his career, while earning a reputation for his willingness to slide hard into an infielder trying to apply the tag.

Stearnes had an unique stance, with his front foot turned heel down and toe pointed straight up, but although not a heavy man, he was a natural hitter with powerful shoulders. Playing in Mack Park, a hitter's park, was an asset to the gifted slugger. During his first three seasons with the Detroit Stars, he led the Negro National League in homers against league competition, with 17, 10, and 18, respectively. In 1928 he again topped the league, with 24 homers in 88 games. In addition to hitting tape-measure home runs, he raked Negro National League pitching for averages of .365, .358, .369, .375, 346, .326, 378, .340, and .350 during his nine years with Detroit, 1923-31.

In 1931 the Stars encountered financial difficulties and could not pay his salary, and Stearnes left the team, eventually landing with the Chicago American Giants, where his presence helped them annex a pennant in two different leagues during his first two seasons with the team. In 1932 they won the Negro Southern League pennant, and the following year, with Stearnes batting in the leadoff spot to utilize his speed and contributing a .387 batting average, Chicago captured the new Negro National League's first flag. His sterling play made him the top vote-getter among outfielders and warranted a starting position in the first East-West All Star game, held in Comiskey Park that season. He played center field, batted leadoff, and collected 2 hits in the West's victory in that first contest. After this initial All Star appearance, the veteran outfielder played in three additional games, 1934-1935 and 1937.

In 1935 he is credited with a league high .430 batting average while with the American Giants. After playing with the Royal Giants in the 1935 winter, he left Chicago for a season to play with the Philadelphia Stars but returned in 1937, when the American Giants lost a playoff to the Kansas City Monarchs for the Negro American League title. The next season he shifted to the Monarchs and helped them to consecutive pennants in 1940-1941.

Before he became a slugging outfielder, he was a schoolboy pitcher as a student at Pearl High School in his hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. At age fifteen, the budding ballplayer left school for the workplace after his father died. However, he continued his baseball pursuits, playing with the southern teams, including the Nashville Elite Giants and the Montgomery Grey Sox, before being discovered by Detroit Stars' manager Bruce Petway in 1923. Stearnes went to Detroit, working for the Briggs Manufacturing Company and playing for the Stars. Many years later, after he retired from baseball, he returned to Detroit and worked in the rolling mills of the city until 1964.

During his career he also played winter ball in Cuba and California, but the slugger never learned to bunt until Dave Malarcher taught him the art after Stearnes joined the American Giants. He closed out his career as one of the most prolific long ball hitters in the Negro Leagues, with 185 home runs in league play, 7 home run titles, and a .359 league batting average. As another indicator of his hitting prowess, he was credited with a .351 batting average in exhibitions against major leaguers.

Stearnes was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.

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