The 2000 Hall of Fame induction ceremony marked a banner event for Detroit baseball.
Even though he was going in with a Cincinnati cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, Sparky Anderson was one of the best and most beloved managers to ever put on a Tiger uniform.
But there was an even bigger legend in Detroit baseball inducted alongside Anderson who never got the chance to put on a Tiger uniform.
Norman “Turkey” Stearnes was a Negro Leagues legend who was a dominant outfielder for the Detroit Stars, finally getting his due 16 years ago in Cooperstown, N.Y., alongside Anderson, Tony Perez, Carlton Fisk and Bid McPhee.
But despite being a Hall of Famer, Turkey Stearnes is a name rarely remembered.
Negro League legends Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson are remembered by most baseball fans, while others like Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard and “Cool Papa” Bell are remembered by some.
Turkey Stearnes had the great nickname, plus the dominant play to back it up, which you would think would make him one of the most memorable players in baseball history.
But just like most Detroit Tigers legends — Kaline, Trammell, Whitaker, Gehringer, Greenberg, Crawford, Heilmann, Newhouser — Stearnes was a blue-collar, quiet superstar.
Stearnes played from 1923-1931 with the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League, rejoining the team in 1937 as well.
Many Detroit baseball historians believe him to be the second greatest player to ever play in Detroit, following Ty Cobb.
Sadly, we will never know if that is true. But just to be mentioned in that company shows how great he was.
How great was he?
In Negro Leagues games, Stearnes — not Gibson — has the most home runs. He also ranks near the top in RBIs, hits and stolen bases, finishing with a .344 career batting average. Now, that is in league games that have surviving official statistics, something that hasn’t survived for every game, not to mention the hundreds of barnstorming games most Negro Leagues players competed in across the country.
So it is impossible to compare the statistics of Stearnes to the statistics of Cobb or Kaline. However, those statistics show that he was one of the best Negro League players in history — something that can never be taken away or debated.
There also is no debating his legacy in the city of Detroit. He played most of his career in Detroit and lived their until is death at age 78 in 1979.
But there will always be a debate about where he ranks in Detroit history because he never got the chance to go head to head with Greenberg, Gehringer or any other player to ever wear the Old English “D.”
For all the historians who know Stearnes, he is near the top of the list. But unfortunately, most baseball fans have not heard of Turkey Stearnes, and maybe never will.
But Turkey deserves to be remembered with the greatest players who ever played the game. Sixteen years ago, his family was finally assured that would happen when he was elected into the Hall of Fame with Sparky.
Turkey and Sparky — and a banner day for Detroit.