On Thanksgiving, get know Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes
Get to know Hall-of-Famer Turkey Stearnes
It's Thanksgiving, so it's time to speak some truth -- turkey is a terrible food. It tastes like a handful of wet napkins that someone left under a spice rack. Thankfully, there's a way to make turkey awesome, and that's by using it as a nickname for baseball players.
There have been two players in MLB history nicknamed Turkey. Turkey Gross was a shortstop for the Red Sox in 1925. Turkey Tyson played in one game for the Phillies in 1944. He had one at-bat in the only Major League game he ever played in his life, but for some reason, he didn't get the Moonlight Graham treatment. (Cool nicknames have power, guys.)
But Norman "Turkey" Stearnes didn't even play in one MLB game. He spent his 20-year career entirely in the Negro Leagues, debuting in 1920 and retiring in '42, just five years before integration. Satchel Paige called him "one of the greatest hitters we ever had. He was as good as Josh [Gibson]. He was as good as anybody who ever played ball." He hit .344/.396/.618 -- in terms of just career batting average, that puts him alongside Ted Williams.
Stearnes spent most of his career with the Detroit Stars, and according to author Ron Bak, in 1930, he "almost singlehandedly propelled the Detroit Stars to a playoff with the St. Louis Stars for the Negro National League Pennant." But in 20 seasons he never played for a title-winning team. Though he got five hits in the second game of the series, Detroit fell to St. Louis, four games to three.
He hit the most home runs in Negro Leagues history, with 176. This probably has a lot to do with his habit of talking to his bat:
His trot around the bases might have been a little ungainly, though. According to his wife, Nettie, that's why they called him "Turkey."
But was he as fast as fellow Negro Leaguer Cool Papa Bell, who once told Bob Costas he might be faster than the speed of light?
Radcliffe also said that no one should be in the Hall of Fame if Stearnes wasn't in it. Luckily for Cooperstown, he was finally inducted in 2000.