If you think Ichiro Suzuki's batting stance is unorthodox, you should have seen Norman "Turkey" Stearnes when he stepped into the batter's box in the Negro Leagues. Stearnes was a left-handed hitter who had an open stance with his right heel twisted and his big toe pointed straight up.
But Stearnes' stance at the plate didn't stop him from being one of the best power and leadoff hitters in Negro Leagues history. Best known for his years in the Negro National League with the Detroit Stars from 1923-31, Stearnes won six home run titles and was a perennial .300 hitter during his 20-year career. Even more amazing: A past-his-prime Stearnes still managed to play in four of the first five East-West All-Star Games in the 1930s.
Nicknamed "Turkey" because he ran the bases like a turkey, Stearns was one of the fastest runners in the Negro Leagues. The Committee on Baseball Veterans voted Stearnes into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Born in 1901, Stearnes had to start working at age 15 after his father died, but he continued to pursue his baseball dreams. Like most Negro Leagues players during that period, Stearnes was a walking vagabond. His Negro Leagues baseball career started with the Nashville Elite Giants in 1920. The following season, he joined the Montgomery Grey Sox before going to the Memphis Red Sox in 1922.
The next season, Stars manager Bruce Petway convinced Stearnes to join the roster, and it was in Detroit where Stearnes became known as an all-around outfielder who, according to historian James A. Riley in his book The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, "would slide hard into an infielder trying to apply the tag."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.