“He hit with the right foot in the bucket and twisted his right heel and pointed his big toe up.”
The great Satchel Paige described the visual awe of one of the top Negro League players ever. Norman “Turkey” Stearnes got his nickname because he looked like a turkey while running as a child. His arms would flap about as he “flew” around the bases. That nickname stuck with the Tennessee native his whole life.
Turkey Stearnes began his professional career in 1921 in Montgomery. Ultimately, he became a star two years later with the Detroit Stars. Starting in 1923, he was consistently among the league leaders in the top offensive categories. He took his bat to New York in 1930 but went back to Motown when the team offered him a deal he couldn’t turn down. He batted .353 with the Stars and led his team to the pennant against Cool Papa Bell and Willie Wells of the St. Louis Stars in a true battle of stars. He had one of the best 7 game series in the history of baseball, batting .481, belting 3 homers, and driving in 11 runs. Legend has it he clobbered a ball well over 500 feet during the series.
Negro League statistics are incomplete because of the lack of coverage; still, Stearnes compiled impressive statistics. He batted north of .350, slugged .644, and even out-homered Josh Gibson, colloquially known as the black Babe Ruth, with 172 round-trippers. In fact, Turkey led the Negro Leagues a whopping 7 times in home runs.
Stearnes played in 4 of the first 5 Negro Leagues All-Star games. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. Turkey’s plaque depicts his excellent in the batter’s box as he hit over .300 in 14 out of the 19 seasons he played.
Turkey doesn’t get the stardom that other Negro Leagues legends like Cool Papa Bell or Josh Gibson get. Maybe it was because of his reserved personality, but one thing is for sure: Stearnes was a five tool center fielder who commanded attention and deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame.
Featured Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame