Monday, April 26, 2010

26. "Turkey" Stearnes

Unlike today, baseball didn't stop after the World Series. As soon as the season ended, the most talented professional ballplayers followed the warm weather south to Cuba and Puerto Rico or west to California. Starting at the beginning of the twentieth century Southern California had a thriving integrated league featuring pros from the white and black major leagues. Bonafide stars like Babe Herman, Walter Johnson, Kiki Cuyler, Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx, Bob Meusel played against the great black stars Bullet Joe Rogan, Biz Mackey, Satchel Paige, Chet Brewer and Turkey Stearnes. During the league's heyday of the late 1920's the all-black Los Angeles Royal Giants dominated the league. The Giants hitters pounded the white pitching and the Giants hurlers smoked the white batters. Blacks were barred from playing in most of the ballparks around Los Angeles so White Sox Park was built specifically for them. Located near Fourth and Anderson Streets fans of all colors showed up to see the best baseball available west of the Mississippi. Although the league was integrated at a time when blacks were being lynched in the south and non-whites were barred from many beaches along the California coast, surprisingly few incidents of racism occurred on the field or in the stands. The spectacle of darn good baseball transcended any sense of racial superiority or inequality.

One of the greatest players of any hue to play in Southern California was Norman "Turkey" Stearnes. In nine years of coming west surviving box scores show he hit for a .373 average and hit 44 homers in 754 at bats.

Stearnes got his unique nickname from the awkward, flailing way he ran the bases, described by fans as looking like a “hunted turkey”. Six foot tall with powerful shoulders, Stearnes was a star centerfielder during the 1920’s and 30’s. He was also a fast runner and led the Negro National League in both triples and stolen bases on a few occasions. Like many other players of his time, he was not shy about sliding into a base with spikes high and his aggressive play became his trademark. He often batted leadoff because of his speed and he was the consummate team player. Talking about his home runs he said "If it didn't win a game, it didn't matter." He was elected to four all-star games, batted over .400 three times and led his league in home runs seven times. Although Stearnes was a quiet and modest man his fans and players understood his value as a player and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.


  1. Thank you for sharing this information. Turkey Stearnes is actually my grandfather! I haven't heard many stories about his days out west but these words will be cemented in my memory forever!!!

  2. Wow, that's really cool! I'd appreciate it if you'd email me when you got a chance...