Born May 8, 1901 in Nashville, Tennessee, Norman Thomas “Turkey” Stearnes did not have the typical built of a home run hitter. But the 6 feet, 175 pound left handed hitting center fielder swung with such power he became one of the most prolific sluggers in Negro League baseball during his career (1920 – 1940). Stearnes was the league leading home run hitter a reportedly six times.
While running, Stearnes’ head bobbed up and down, his neck stretched, and his arms flailed. Someone said he looked like a “wild turkey” and the nickname stuck with him throughout his career. But, he was an excellent fielder with base stealing speed.
Also, he had an unorthodox batting stance in which he pointed his front foot towards the pitcher with the heel down and toes up. He looked awkward standing at home plate, but it proved productive for him and nightmarish for pitchers. Stearnes was the marquee player for the Detroit Stars (1923 – 1931, 1933, and 1937). But, he also played for other teams including the New York Lincolns (1930), Cole’s (Chicago) American Giants (1932 – 1935), and the Kansas City Monarchs (1938 – 1941).
Stearnes received the most votes from fans for the first Negro League East – West All Star Game in 1933 and he got two hits in the contest. The yearly game became the national showcase for Negro League baseball and Stearnes was chosen by fans to play in it five times; 1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, and 1939.
He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
At the front of what current Major League baseball stadium is there a statue of Turkey Stearnes?