Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Jack White & friends to play charity baseball match Thursday at historic Hamtramck Stadium

Duane Burleson/Associated Press
July 9, 2019

HAMTRAMCK, MICH. — Detroit native Jack White and his Warstic Woodmen will play a sandlot-style baseball game Thursday, July 11 at noon at the former home of the Negro League Detroit Stars, Hamtramck Stadium, to benefit the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium 

White, an avid baseball fan best known for fronting legendary Detroit garage-rock band the White Stripes, is part owner of Warstic, a Dallas-based sporting goods company founded by former professional baseball player Ben Jenkins.

White is currently on tour with his band the Raconteurs and will play a charity match against a local team of "all-stars" to help raise funds for the restoration of Hamtramck Stadium, one of the few remaining major Negro League ballparks in America

Earlier this year, White kick-started a crowdfunding campaign to help restore the playing field. 

With the number-one album in the country this week, White and the Raconteurs will kick off their American tour this weekend with two shows at Detroit's Masonic Temple.

Located near the border of Detroit in the diverse city of Hamtramck, Michigan, Hamtramck Stadium hosted many Negro League legends over the years, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Detroit's own Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.

Stearnes' daughters, Joyce Thompson and Rosilyn Brown, will sing the national anthem prior to the game, and Detroit's own Robert Bradley is set to sing his original composition"Born in America" during the seventh-inning stretch. 

Former Negro Leaguer Ron Teasley, 92, will throw out the first pitch to former Detroit Tiger and Hamtramck native Ike Blessitt  and Stearnes' granddaughter Vanessa Rose will start in center field for the home team. 

White will be joined on the field Thursday by Warstic founder and former Philadelphia Phillies farmhand Ben Jenkins, Raconteurs bandmate Brendan Benson, and a host of other friends and bandmates, including Tori Kinsler, whose brother Ian Kinsler played for the Detroit Tigers (2014–2017) and who is part owner of Warstic, along with Jenkins and White.

Admission to Hamtramck Stadium is free. Donations to the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium will be accepted, and Warstic merchandise will also be available for sale to help benefit the Friends and the continued restoration of the playing field. 

Fans are encouraged to bring water, sunscreen, and folding chairs.  

Historic Hamtramck Stadium is located at 3201 Dan Street, Hamtramck, MI 48212. 
For directions to Hamtramck Stadium, click here

To support the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, click here.

For more information, click here.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

New Negro Leagues baseball exhibit opens June 15 at the Detroit Historical Museum

In conjunction with the Detroit Historical Society and the Black Historic Sites Committee, the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium proudly announce a centennial celebration of the Negro League Detroit Stars baseball club with a new exhibit opening Saturday, June 15 at the Detroit Historical Museum. 
"The Negro Leagues and Detroit Stars" exhibit marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Detroit Stars and showcases the remarkable saga of Detroit’s Black Baseball history, including the Stars and their Hall of Fame outfielder Norman “Turkey” Stearnes. 
Negro League teams and their legendary players will be featured in rich, graphic display panels, including a life-size painting of Turkey Stearnes by acclaimed Negro Leagues artist Phil Dewey
Turkey Stearnes image courtesy of Phil Dewey.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors will also see a display dedicated to the history of Women in Black Baseball. The exhibit will also include artifacts, memorabilia and a historic timeline of Black Baseball in Detroit.
An opening reception at the Detroit Historical Museum in the Allesee Gallery of Culture, complete with hot dogs and refreshments, will take place on Saturday, June 15 from noon to 3 p.m. Later in the day at 6:10 p.m., the Detroit Tigers will host the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, making this the perfect tailgate-style pregame party.

The reception kicks off with opening remarks from members of the Black Historic Sites Committee, Turkey Stearnes’ daughters Joyce Stearnes Thompson and Rosilyn Stearnes Brown, and Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium founder Gary Gillette.

Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, so-called “organized baseball” was a segregated sport that banned African Americans. During this era of discrimination, major-league baseball stadiums were often off limits to Negro League teams.

Locally, the Detroit Stars played at Mack Park on the city’s east side from 1919 to 1929, before moving in 1930 to Hamtramck Stadium, one of the last remaining major Negro League ballparks in America today. 
Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Detroit Stars, this fascinating new exhibit represents the cornerstone of activities organized by the BHSC in 2019 to educate the public about the history of Black baseball in Detroit. 
So far this year we’ve co-hosted bus tours of historic Black baseball sites and an ongoing Negro League film series. A custom designed T-shirt commemorating the Detroit Stars will be available for sale during the reception, designed by the BHSC to raise funds for its programs. 
An affinity group of the Detroit Historical Society, the Black Historic Sites Committee was formed in 1971 by then Detroit City Councilman Ernest Browne. Since its inception, the BHSC has remained dedicated to discovering and exploring historic sites around Detroit that recognize the significant people and events of the city’s African American community. 

The Detroit Historical Museum is located at 5401 Woodward Ave. To visit the Facebook event page, click here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hamtramck celebrates the centennial of the Negro League Detroit Stars

The Detroit Stars, pictured with team president Tenny Blount, in 1920.

Joined by the family of Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Detroit Stars Saturday with the opening of a new photo exhibit called Black Baseball in Detroit.

“Detroit Black baseball history effectively began when Rube Foster, often called the Father of Black Baseball,’ founded the Detroit Stars in 1919,” said Friends founder and president Gary Gillette. “A year later, the Stars became charter members of the first major Negro League, the Negro National League.

One hundred years after the Stars’ first game, the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium (FHHS) are gearing up to bring the history of Black Baseball in Michigan to the attention of everyone who cares about the history of the African-American community in Detroit.

To that end, FHHS is planning a Detroit Stars Centennial Conference August 8-10.

“Even though the Negro Leagues’ era has long passed,” Gillette said, “it is long past time that the accomplishments of Turkey Stearnes and the rest of these great African-American athletes were moved out of the shadows into the limelight.

Longtime baseball coach and FHHS vice president Mike Wilson was also on hand to honor the Stars centennial and discuss plans to restore the home of the Detroit Stars. 

The one thing that continues to resonate with me is how folks have consistently sought to preserve the history, landscape, and citizenry of the Hamtramck community, said Wilson, a Hamtramck native.

I’m honored to help coordinate the sports clinics and try to accommodate all cultures and backgrounds through baseball, softball, soccer, and cricket.

Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium's Mike Wilson helps open the new Black Baseball photo exhibit at the Hamtramck Historical Museum Saturday, April 20. (Photo by Dave Mesrey)

Rosilyn Stearnes Brown, daughter of Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes, came to pay homage to Detroit's and Hamtramcks history of Negro League baseball and to lend her support to the restoration of Hamtramck Stadium.

I hope we can generate the funds needed to complete this project by also renovating the grandstand so that people will want to come and participate in all of the activities, she said. This is one of only five stadiums left in the country where my dad and his teammates played, so this is the least we can do to keep their legacy alive. A small price to pay for such a deserving group of men.

The Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, along with the family of Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Detroit Stars at the Hamtramck Historical Museum. (Photo by Jason Roche) 

“Today was a historical day because of the centennial anniversary of the Detroit Stars, said Stearnes daughter Joyce Stearnes Thompson. 

Now that the plan is in place to restore Hamtramck Stadium's playing field, Thompson is hopeful that the plan for the grandstand will soon come to fruition.

It's my hope that some affluent person with a heart of gold will help us renovate the grandstand, she said. Since I never had the opportunity to see my father play, this would be a dream come true.

Tom Derry, founder of the Hamtramck Stadium Grounds Crew, says he's excited to begin his group's third year of maintaining the historic site.

In the coming months, we'll restore the pitching mound where Satchel Paige used to twirl, the home plate area where Josh Gibson once caught, and the base paths that Cool Papa Bell once raced around.

And we’ll continue to take care of the outfield that was home to the great Turkey Stearnes.

While the grandstand has yet to be restored, Derry says people can bring chairs down to the field and catch some vintage base ball" action this summer. 

We’ll even grill up some hot dogs, and serve up peanuts and cold drinks, he said. "We’ll help make this a park that everyone can enjoy. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

FHHS hits its goal, raises $50k in campaign to renovate historic Hamtramck Stadium

The Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium and the Piast Institute are pleased to announce that our crowdfunding campaign has reached its $50,000 goal. We are very gratified by the groundswell of support for our cause, and we look forward to beginning the restoration of the historic field for baseball, soccer, and cricket usage.

Our campaign was launched on March 4 through Patronicity.com and will continue until Tuesday, April 2, at 6 p.m.

By reaching our goal, we've qualified for $50,000 in matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which sponsors the Public Spaces Community Places program.

FHHS and Piast would like to individually thank our most generous donors: Jack White of Detroit, whose $10,000 kicked off the campaign, Valerie Elliott, of Royal Oak, and Detroiters Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore and William Haupricht, whose $10,000 donation put us over the top.

Abdallah Sheik, CEO of Captain Jay’s Fish & Chicken restaurant chain, graciously donated $2,500 this week to get us closer to our goal. Debra Williams of Sterling Heights also donated $2,500 on Day 2 of the campaign.

More than 300 individuals have contributed to our campaign so far, including all members of the Friends board of directors and all Piast employees.

Thanks again to all of you for your continued support of the restoration of historic Hamtramck Stadium.

# # #

To continue to support the restoration of Hamtramck Stadium, go to patronicity.com/hhs

All money received will go toward the Hamtramck Stadium project.

For more information about historic Hamtramck Stadium, visit us on Facebookfollow us on Twitterfollow us on Instagram, or go to hamtramckstadium.org.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New photos of Negro Leagues legend Turkey Stearnes discovered nearly 40 years after his death

Summer of '79: A gravely ill Turkey Stearnes pays a final visit to Tiger Stadium, where
he was never allowed to play because of the color of his skin. (John Collier/Detroit Free Press)

By Dave Mesrey

Every picture tells a story, and this one is no exception. 

In the summer of 1979, a group of aging African-American ballplayers gathered in Greenup, Kentucky, at the home of newspaper publisher Tom Stultz for the first annual Negro Leagues baseball reunion

What started out as a birthday party for Clint "The Hawk" Thomas turned into a full-fledged reunion featuring the likes of Ray DandridgeBuck Leonard, Buck O’Neil, and Judy Johnson. 

Former Detroit Stars center fielder Norman "Turkey" Stearnes made the trip from Detroit, traveling by plane for just the second time in his life. The Nashville native, then 78, had retired to Detroit, where after his baseball career he'd worked for nearly 30 years in the foundry at the Ford Motor Company's storied Rouge complex. 

It was there at the Rouge in the 1950s, long before there was a Motown Records, that Stearnes worked alongside a young Berry Gordy. 

Stearnes, a prolific home-run hitter who starred for the Stars in the 1920s and '30s (first on the city's east side at Mack Park and later at Hamtramck Stadium), was a man of few words. 

He let his bat do the talking.  

Stearnes was “one of the greatest hitters we ever had," Satchel Paige once said. "He was as good as Josh [Gibson]. He was as good as anybody who ever played ball.”

"Turkey Stearnes was a five-tool player and one of the greatest power hitters in baseball history — not just Negro League history," says baseball historian Gary Gillette. "There's no doubt that he would have been a superstar in Major League Baseball if he had been allowed to cross the color line. 

"Tragically, he received his due way too late, decades after his death when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame."

When Detroit Free Press sportswriter Joe Lapointe got home from the Negro Leagues reunion, he and Freep photographer John Collier invited Stearnes to a photo shoot at Tiger Stadium, where Stearnes was never allowed to play because of the color of his skin.

Baseball Hall of Famer Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.
John Collier/Detroit Free Press
No one knew it at the time, but in the summer of '79 Turkey Stearnes was gravely ill. 

"That was the last time with my dad before he passed," says Stearnes' daughter Joyce Stearnes Thompson. "He looks so frail, but it was a glorious moment — a moment he had been denied."

Collier's signature photo from that day eventually made its way to Cooperstown, when Stearnes was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. 

Taking his stance at home plate, his bat softly cradled in his massive hands, Stearnes cast his gaze deep into the outfield, where he sat as a spectator for so many days in the bleachers in the 1950s and '60s

"In his eyes, you can see the story of the Negro Leagues," says Gillette, founder and president of the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium. "It’s the triumph of determination over discrimination, and the triumph of dignity over despair." 

Standing in the same left-handed batter's box once occupied by his white crosstown contemporary Ty Cobb, a dying Stearnes stares stoically into center field

He is the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

"I remember his hands — he had very large hands, and the way he gripped the bat, you could tell he was a pro," says Lapointe. "I remember he was dressed really sharp. He still had an athletic physique, and his clothes brought that out. The magic moment ... was when he picked up the bat and took his stance in the batter's box. ... He just snapped back into this batting stance, and he looked like a power hitter for sure."

"Dad would always wear clothes that were a little too big for him," says daughter Rosilyn Brown. "But we wanted him to look sharp, so we went to Sears and got him something that really fit.

"I let him pick out his shoes, and he came back with a pair of house shoes. I said, 'Dad, you can't wear house shoes to the reunion!'”

Collier was sifting through his photo archives recently when he made a remarkable discovery: two never-before-seen pictures of Turkey Stearnes from that fateful day at Tiger Stadium. 

John Collier/Detroit Free Press

In honor of Stearnes' 117th birthday, we are publishing them here for the first time today. 

"John Collier was excellent," Lapointe says. "He's very imaginative, and he sees things with a good eye. He's aware of more than a lot of photographers, and he sees a picture where some don't." 

"Dad didn't laugh a lot," Thompson says, "so that visual gives me some closure. It feels good to see my dad smiling."

"I loved to see Dad smile," says Brown. "I think he was smiling because he was happy he finally got a chance to swing his bat at Tiger Stadium."

Monday, March 4, 2019

Jack White to help restore historic Negro League ballpark near Detroit

Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

To help support the restoration of historic Hamtramck Stadium, go to patronicity.com/hhs.


Dave Mesrey

March 4, 2019

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — With the help of Detroit native and rock star Jack White, the Piast Institute and the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium today are pleased to announce the launch of a new campaign to begin restoration of the former home of the Detroit Stars, one of the few remaining Negro League ballparks in America. 

Located near the border of Detroit in the diverse city of Hamtramck, Michigan, Hamtramck Stadium hosted many Negro League legends over the years, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Detroit's own Norman "Turkey" Stearnes

White, an avid baseball fan best known for fronting legendary Detroit garage-rock band the White Stripes, is helping kick off the campaign with a very generous $10,000 donation.

The campaign, launched through Detroit-based Patronicity.com, aims to raise $50,000 to restore Hamtramck Stadium's historic field for baseball and soccer games in advance of a planned restoration of its historic grandstand. Other improvements to be funded with the money raised include enhancing the existing cricket pitch, installing new signage, and installing wayfaring signage around Hamtramck to direct visitors to the site.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation will match donations to the campaign, up to $50,000.

We’re thrilled to be participating in the MEDC’s Public Spaces Community Places program,” says Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium founder and president Gary Gillette. “We’re hopeful the historic preservation community can help us meet our goal.”

The existing grandstand, which hasn't been used since the 1990s, is currently closed to the public, but the City of Hamtramck has a new plan for its redevelopment.

From its founding, the Piast Institute has focused on telling the story of Polish-Americans in Detroit and Hamtramck, which are intertwined with the stories of the historic African-American communities in both cities,” says Piast executive vice president Virginia Skrzyniarz. “The revival of Hamtramck Stadium will be a living monument to Hamtramck’s legacy of diversity and tolerance.”

Hamtramck Stadium is one of just five remaining locations where major Negro League teams once played their home games and represents a historic period in the Detroit community,” says Gillette.

It was also the home of Hamtramck’s 1959 Little League World Series champions.

Photo by Matthew Herch
As a field that’s welcomed at least 18 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, including great Negro League players like Turkey Stearnes, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige, Hamtramck Stadium serves as an important reminder of African-American history here in metro Detroit and across the country," says Gillette.

"Our hope is to preserve this very special place where my father and his teammates made history," says Rosilyn Stearnes-Brown, daughter of Hall of Fame Detroit Stars outfielder Turkey Stearnes.

It’s important to provide our young people with opportunities that will enrich their minds and will make them productive, positive individuals, striving to make a difference in our society just like the players in the Negro Leagues," says Stearnes' daughter Joyce Stearnes Thompson. “Hamtramck Stadium can be a magnificent field of dreams that will preserve the legacy of my father and the Negro Leaguers in this special place they loved.”

The history of Detroit cannot be told without including the history of African-Americans,” Gillette says, “and the history of Detroit’s black community is not complete without the history of the Negro Leagues and the Detroit Stars. Norman ‘Turkey’ Stearnes and his teammates fought against segregation and discrimination both on and off the field, leaving a legacy we can help preserve by restoring Hamtramck Stadium as a community gathering place and a venue for youth sports.”

Built in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium was home to the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and again in 1933. The field was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the Negro East-West League in 1932, and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937.

# # #

To help support the restoration of historic Hamtramck Stadium, go to patronicity.com/hhs.

For more information about historic Hamtramck Stadium, visit us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, follow us on Instagram, or go to hamtramckstadium.org.

About the Piast Institute and FHHS
The Piast Institute is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) national research center devoted to Polish and Polish-American affairs. It is also one of fifty-two United States Census Bureau Information Centers (CIC) and one of two located in Michigan. The Institute was founded in 2003 by Dr. Thaddeus Radzilowski, a celebrated historian, writer and academic, and Mrs. Virginia Skrzyniarz, an accomplished nonprofit executive.

Founded in 2012, the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium is a Michigan nonprofit organization, working in partnership with Piast, the FHHS fiduciary. FHHS is devoted to restoring and preserving historic Hamtramck Stadium and ensuring its future through educational, cultural, and recreational programming honoring the history of Negro League Baseball and amateur sports in Hamtramck and Detroit.

In addition to getting Hamtramck Stadium listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Friends installed a State of Michigan Historic Marker for the Stadium in Hamtramck’s Veterans Park in 2014. In 2017, the Friends provided the historical research used by the City of Hamtramck to obtain an African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service.