A Rich Legacy

The 17th Annual Negro League Conference visits Detroit this August
Images courtesy of Richard Bak

Detroit baseball isn’t just about Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, or Charlie Gehringer. This August, baseball enthusiasts from all over the country will gather in the Motor City to discuss another important part of the sport’s rich legacy.

The respected Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) is hosting its 17th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference from Aug. 14-16 at the Courtyard Marriott downtown. The theme of this year’s event is certainly appropriate — “Turkey Stearnes and Black Baseball in Michigan.”

Norman “Turkey” Stearnes was a heavy-hitting outfielder whose tenure with the Detroit Stars in the days before baseball integration was marked by towering home runs that rivaled those of the more storied Negro Leagues power hitter Josh Gibson. Stearnes’ career lasted for two decades (from the early 1920s to 1940), and he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

“Stearnes was the greatest black ballplayer in Detroit baseball history,” says author and conference co-chair Dick Clark. “Not Major League or Detroit Tigers history, but baseball history.”

Much of the conference will focus on the Stars, the pre-eminent African-American team in Detroit.

But the gathering won’t focus just on the Motor City. Beginning with the Page Fence Giants in the 1890s (a barnstorming team based in Adrian), the Great Lakes State as a whole — from Traverse City to Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo to Saginaw — sports a rich history of African-American baseball. There are planned author panels, paper presentations, player interviews, a tour of historic Hamtramck Stadium, and a trip to Comerica Park for a Tigers game.

“It is a great chance to listen to lots of good research, but the highlights this year will be the player panel, the Stearnes family, a Robert Paige (the famous Satchel Paige’s son) presentation, and visit to Hamtramck,” says SABR Negro Leagues committee co-chair Leslie Heaphy.

SABR had its beginnings in Cooperstown, N.Y., in the early 1970s. According to its website, the organization boasts some 6,000 members worldwide — from major and minor league officials, broadcasters, and writers to former players and “just plain fans.”

The SABR website pays homage to another Detroit legend, too. It quotes Ernie Harwell, the late Tigers broadcaster, as saying: “SABR is the Phi Beta Kappa of baseball, providing scholarship which the sport has long needed. … An excellent way for all of us to add to our enjoyment of the greatest game.”

For more information or to register for the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference, go to sabr.org/malloy. Ryan Whirty is an award-winning journalist and researcher who specializes in the Negro Leagues. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

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