May 8, 1901|
|Died: September 4, 1979
|1920, for the Nashville Giants|
|1940, for the Kansas City Monarchs|
|Negro league statistics|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Election Method||Veterans Committee|
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Stearnes acquired his nickname at an early age from his unusual running style. He began his career in professional baseball in 1920 with the Nashville Giants, then played for the Detroit Stars, beginning in 1923. In 1931, the Stars failed to pay Stearnes his salary because of the Great Depression, so he moved from team to team for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1942 as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs.
Stearnes is considered by some as one of the great all-around players in the history of baseball, but because of his race and his quiet personality, he never received the recognition that many believe he deserved. He batted over .400 three times and led the Negro leagues in home runs seven times. He is credited with 176 home runs in his Negro league career, the all-time Negro league record, and 50 more than second-place Mule Suttles. Since Negro league seasons were very short, sometimes lasting fewer than 30 games, it is unclear how many home runs Stearnes might have hit in a 154-game major league season. The 175-pound Stearnes was a fast baserunner despite his awkward-looking running form, and was one of the best outfielders of his generation. In 2001, writer Bill James ranked Stearnes as the 25th greatest baseball player of all-time and the best left fielder in the Negro leagues.
Stearnes' known career statistics include a .344 batting average, 176 home runs, 750 games, and a .621 slugging percentage.
Other work and later life
Despite his accomplishments, Stearnes had to work winters in Detroit's auto plants to survive, primarily in a factory owned by Walter Briggs, who was the owner of the Detroit Tigers, a team he couldn't play for because of his skin color.
Stearnes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, 21 years after his death in Detroit. He was survived by his wife, Nettie Mae.
A plaque in Stearnes' honor is on display outside the centerfield gate at the Tigers' home field, Comerica Park.
- "Champion Monarchs Open Season With Victory" The Kansas City Advocate, Kansas City, Kansas, Friday, May 29, 1925, Page 3, Columns 1 to 5
- James, Bill (2001). The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. The Free Press.