Norman "Turkey" Stearnes
2019 oil on canvas w/wood and found objects 40 x 82 Available for purchase. Please contact the artist.
Described by baseball scholars as â€śthe best black player in Detroit baseball history,â€ť Norman â€śTurkeyâ€ť Stearnes embodied the complete ballplayer. From the plate he was formidable, hitting for power, distance and percentage. He won home run titles in the Negro Leagues six times, stretching impressively from 1924 to 1940, and during the 1930â€™s he took home three batting titles. Stearnesâ€™ play from centerfield was equally impressive, with a sure glove, rifle arm and speed to burn.The slender, quiet slugger for the Detroit Stars was a team player first and when asked about his many home runs memorably quipped, â€śI never counted my home runs. If it didnâ€™t win a game, it didnâ€™t matter.â€ť
Like many players of his era, Stearnes aged out of baseball before integration came to the Majors in 1947. Yet in Detroit, Tigers owner Walter O. Briggs saw to it that his team remained an all-white ballclub well into the late 1950â€™s. However, with a bitter slice of irony, Stearnes was granted a job in Briggsâ€™ auto factory during his playing career and afterwards, working in one of the worst areas of the plant that most blacks were granted employment: the foundry. He suffered hearing loss later in life as a result of this work.
Turkey Stearnes would never play for his beloved Tigers yet he was an ardent, lifelong fan. Neither would he live to see himself enshrined in Cooperstown. However, with the perseverance of his family and baseball writers and scholars, Stearnes was finally elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
In this painting, Stearnes is posing at his centerfield post at Hamtramck Stadium during warm-up with a game ready to get under way. A freight train steams past the grandstand bearing Stearnesâ€™ lifetime batting average on the engine, while on the horizon the four iconic stacks of Dodge Main belch smoke during the second shift.