His unusual nickname was given to him at a young age. This was due to his peculiar style of running. The outfielder started his professional career playing for the Nashville Giants of the Southern Negro League at age 19 in 1920. After playing for the Montgomery Grey Sox of the Independent Negro League a year later, he joined the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League in 1923. This was where he would become a star, as he combined speed, power and the ability to hit for an average. Though the NNL did not play nearly as many games as the White Major Leagues did, Stearnes put up numbers that were outstanding in a sample size that was sufficient enough to judge. In 1923, he hit .385, 17, 85 with 18 2B and 14 3B in 298 plate appearances. His slugging percentage was .710; he would slug over .700 4 times in his 7 seasons with the Star. In 1924, he hit .350, 8, 59 with 7 2B and 10 3B over 236 PAs. He followed that up by hitting .364, 19, 60 with 24 2B, 11 3B in a career high 400 PAs in 1925, .387, 19, 64 (30, 8) in 366 PAs in 1926 and .358, 19, 27 (20, 10)270 in 1927. He would hit a career high 23 HRs in 1928, while hitting .322, 17 2Bs, 7 3Bs and 42 RBI in 345 PAs. His last full season for Detroit was 1929, which saw him hit .402, 16, 51 with 16 2Bs and 4 3Bs in 284 PAs.
Stearnes would play for both the Detroit Stars and the Independent New York Lincoln Giants in 1930. Between the two teams, he hit .344, 7, 41, 13, 13 in 218 PAs. He left the Stars after the team refused to pay him after the Great Depression. The remainder of his ride saw him go to Kansas City, Chicago, to Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia, back to Detroit and Chicago, before finishing with Kansas City of the Negro American League form 1938-1940. According to wikipedia.org, Stearnes hit 176 career home runs. That was 50 more than the next closest, Mule Suttles. However, there are many who feel Josh Gibson hit more since a lot of his stats were not recorded. He was one of the top outfielders in the history of the Negro Leagues and was considered the 25th greatest baseball player of all time, according to Bill James in 2001. James also ranked Stearnes as the best left fielder in the history of the Negro Leagues. His known career stats were a .344 average, 195 2B, 101 3B and 585 RBI, finishing with a 1.014 OPS.
Turkey Stearnes even managed to pitch in a couple games in 1920 and 1923, albeit to not so good results. His start he made in 1922 saw him give up 14 ER in 7 IP in a loss. He worked in the winter times at auto plants in Detroit. The place he primarily worked in was ironically owner by Detroit Tigers owner Walter Briggs. Baseball's Hall of Fame finally inducted him in the year of 2000, 21 years after he passed away and 60 years after he played in his last game. If he had come up 30 years later, who knows how great of a player he would been remembered for. One of the pure power hitters of his time, he was a swift runner even though he had an awkward running style. It is great the Baseball Hall of Fame recognized him, but it would have been better if he had the opportunity to attend his own enshrinement.