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Turkey Stearnes’ Negro Leagues legacy still felt today



Turkey Stearnes’ legacy still felt today

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This #BlackHistoryMonth and beyond, we’re honoring Norman “Turkey” Stearnes and his Detroit Stars teammates.

Join us July 21-23 for Negro Leagues Weekend, when we’ll give his No. 8 jersey to the first 15,000 fans on July 22: https://t.co/EvzonZUiwT pic.twitter.com/QqcZ22c5SZ

— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) February 28, 2023

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February 19th, 2024

Joyce Stearnes Thompson is the daughter of Baseball Hall of Famer Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, but she never saw her father play the game professionally.

She really didn’t know the full story about her father’s decorated Negro Leagues baseball career until after he passed away in 1979; for the most part, she simply knew Stearnes as a good dad who provided for the family, managed a laundromat in the Detroit area and would often treat her and her sister, Rosilyn Stearnes-Brown, to ice cream.

“My mother said my father wanted boys, but she gave him two girls and he loved us,” Thompson said in a recent interview with MLB.com. “He was loving, kind and giving and he was a man of faith. I never heard my father say anything unkind about anyone. He had a really calming demeanor.”

Stearnes kept his baseball accomplishments to himself, though more of his story came out 21 years later when he was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2000.

Stearnes was comparable to Rickey Henderson — a five-tool player, mostly with the Detroit Stars from 1923-31, and arguably one of the best leadoff hitters in Negro Leagues history. A .415 on-base percentage backs that up, according to Seamheads.com’s Negro Leagues Database.

Stearnes had an unorthodox way of playing the game, and his batting stance was unique: a left-handed hitter, he had an open stance with his right heel twisted and his big toe pointed straight up.

Born in 1901, Stearnes had to start working at age 15 after his father died, but he continued to pursue his baseball dreams. Like most Negro Leagues players during that period, Stearnes moved around a lot. His baseball career started with the Nashville Elite Giants in 1920. The following season, he joined the Montgomery Grey Sox before going to the Memphis Red Sox in ’22.

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.”

Thompson said she didn’t realize as a kid that she was “living with greatness.”

“He would talk about baseball a little bit,” she said of her father. “We played softball as girls growing up. He was a very private person. He didn’t brag or boast. Most of what I learned were from historians. They told me he was an outstanding player, one of the most feared hitters and one of the best center fielders of all time. He had a lot of speed. He was confident, but not cocky. He was humble.”

Stearnes never played in the Major Leagues; he was 45 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in April 1947. According to Thompson, her father was never bitter. He played baseball for the love of the game.

“Being bitter was not his demeanor. He wasn’t going to go through life by being bitter,” she said. “He recognized that he must make his own happiness and not rely on other people to find that happiness. My dad channeled his energy by playing baseball.”

Thompson is pleased that the Tigers regularly acknowledge her father’s greatness. As recently as July of last year, on the centennial anniversary of Stearnes joining the Stars, the Tigers gave away Stearnes replica jerseys to the first 15,000 fans in attendance.

There is also a permanent plaque at Comerica Park acknowledging Stearnes’ on-field accomplishments. The plaque is located at Gate C.

“We have a great relationship with the Detroit Tigers. I can’t say anything negative about them. I love them,” Thompson said.





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