Norman Thomas Stearnes was born in Nashville, Tennessee on May 8, 1901. He pitched at Pearl High School in his hometown, until age fifteen when he left school to work after his father died. Detroit Stars' Manager Bruce Petway discovered him in 1923 while he was playing with the southern black teams. He took a job with the Briggs Manufacturing Company while playing simultaneously with the Stars. The 6', 175 lb. speedy centerfielder is credited with a .359 lifetime average, and 175 home runs in league play. Stearnes batted, threw, and signed left-handed.
His career included playing centerfield for the Detroit Stars (1923-31, 33, 37), New York Lincoln Stars (1930), Cole's American Giants (1932-35), Philadelphia Stars (1936), Chicago American Giants (1938), and the Kansas City Monarchs (1931, 34, 38-41). Stearnes also played in Cuba and California during the off-seasons. He was chosen to the first East-West Negro League All Star Game in 1932 and batted in the leadoff position. With the remaining four All Star games that followed, Stearnes played in three. He was regarded by both Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell as one of the best players in the Negro Leagues and certainly worthy of election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Despite his date of death in 1979, Negro League Outfielder Turkey Stearnes is not an easy autograph acquisition. He was a cordial and wordy mail responder during a time when many collectors did not have the speculation of his eventual Hall of Fame selection. Generally, he would write in script for index card requests "Turkey Stearnes Centerfielder of Detroit Stars 1923 to 1931" taking up most of the area of the one side. His handwriting was large, legible, and somewhat labored in that he would often retrace letters and wander from the base line of writing. After retirement from baseball, he returned to Detroit and worked in the rolling mills of the city until 1964. His posthumous election in 2000 came twenty-one years after his September 4, 1979 death at the age of 78 in Detroit, thus making his autograph popularity limited during his lifetime.
During his playing career, his signature had smaller capital letters than how they were formed later in life. The most distinctive letter, by far was the capital "S" which had similarity to a scripted tilted "B". By examining a full post-career autograph, his capital letters were three times the size of the lower case. There are also breaks between the capitals and the balance of letters and an additional pause between the "m" and the "a". Each letter was in typical script formation with the exception of his middle initial, which he printed. This was in contrast to the capital "T" that was scripted in his nickname Turkey that was formed in an upright fashion and attached to the "u". Individual characteristics include his "k" that resembled a "p" and a capital "S" that reminds one of an inverted musical G clef. His lower case t's weren't often fully crossed. The final "s" curled inward as typical with many left-handed signers.
Expect to find only signed index cards priced over $1500 on this tough Hall of Famer. Photographs during his lifetime were not easily accessible and he would indicate the shortage in his correspondence. I am unaware of any other medium signed by him, other than a social security card or questionnaire on an index card.