We will get to number one next, but we wanted to take the time to give an honorable mention to a Negro League legend, center fielder Turkey Stearnes.
Although not talked about as often as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell, Stearnes was one of the greatest players in Negro League history. He had a rare combination of power and speed, and was known as an excellent defender.
Statistics were harder to come by in this era, but anecdotally Stearnes was one of the great ones. According to the legendary Satchel Paige, Stearnes was “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.”
Another center fielder, Cool Papa Bell, had this to say:
"That man could hit the ball as far as anybody. But they don’t say too much about him. And he was one of our best all-around players. He could field, he could hit, he could run. He had plenty of power."
Stearnes played for the Negro League Detroit Stars during the 1920’s.
He ended up playing for many different teams during his 20-year career, but spent the majority of it in Detroit. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, over 20 years after his death.
Here is an excerpt from his Hall of Fame plaque:
"One of the Negro Leagues’ most feared hitters, he hit better than .300 in 14 of 19 seasons, collected six home run titles and led the league in triples four times. A graceful center fielder as well, he played in four East West All-Star games and played 11 seasons with the Detroit Stars."
The Detroit Stars were one of the most well-known Negro League teams, and Stearnes was their superstar. While his name may not carry the same weight as Paige or Gibson, Stearnes deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest African-American ballplayers in baseball history.
Next is the greatest African-American in Detroit Tiger history, and one of the best to ever wear the Old English D.