Turkey Stearnes

Position: Outfielder
Montgomery Gray Sox, Detroit Stars, New York Lincoln Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Detroit Black Sox, 1921-1945

Here’s how Satchel Paige described the left-handed batting style of Turkey Stearnes: “He hit with the right foot in the bucket and twisted his right heel and pointed his big toe up.” Got that? Regardless of his unorthodox style, Stearnes was a dominant batsman in the Negro Leagues. Paige again: “[Stearnes] was one of the greatest hitters we ever had. He was as good as anybody who ever played ball.”

While Negro League stats are incomplete and confusing, the latest research indicates that Stearnes (1901-79) put up some pretty healthy numbers. In 750 Negro League games (not exhibitions or pickup games against local yokels), he compiled a .350 career batting average, a .664 slugging average, and 172 homers. The last figure is more than Josh Gibson tallied. Stearnes led the Negro League in homers seven times. In one season, he knocked 24 out of the park in just 310 at bats.

Although he played some for Montgomery in 1921, Stearnes’s real career began when he joined the Detroit Stars in 1923. Slotted in the third spot in the batting order, he hit .323 and tagged 17 homers, one shy of the league leader’s pace. In four of the next five seasons, Stearnes was the top homer hitter in the Negro National League, and he was often up among the tops in doubles, triples, batting, and slugging.

Stearnes moved to the New York Lincoln Giants in 1930. He was batting .323 and leading the loop in homers when his old team, the Stars, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They missed not just his bat but also his leadership and ability to draw customers. Stearnes responded by hitting .353 for his old club, helping them to a pennant playoff with the St. Louis Stars of Cool Papa Bell and Willie Wells.

In the seven-game series, Stearnes kept up the hefty batsmanship, hitting .481 with three homers and 11 RBI. They say that one of his homers off St. Louis ace Ted Trent “went well over 500 feet.”

After jumping to the Kansas City Monarchs in a salary dispute, Stearnes won another homer title in 1931. He repeated the feat in 1932, 1939, and 1940. Stearnes was voted to the West squad for the East-West All-Star Game four of that event’s first five years. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

Here are Turkey Stearnes's major league totals*:



*Note: Stearn's career statistics are incomplete.

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