Historic Hamtramck Stadium listed on National Register

SABR member Gary Gillette passed along some good news today about one of the few remaining Negro Leagues ballparks in the United States:

Hamtramck Stadium in Detroit, Michigan, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places this week by the National Park Service. Hamtramck Stadium is one the few surviving home ballparks of the fabled Negro Leagues era from 1920-1950—along with Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama; Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey; and Bush Stadium in Indianapolis.

“The City of Hamtramck is delighted to be a part of the proud history of Negro League baseball, and we look forward to a new future for our Stadium that honors this important legacy and recognizes its continued relevance to new generations,” Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski said. “We always knew we had a gem in this city. It’s a special pleasure to share that gem through this official recognition of its historic significance.”

At least 17 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame once played in Hamtramck Stadium, including baseball immortals like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Cool Papa Bell. Dozens of other great Black Baseball players also took the field at Hamtramck Stadium, including at least 43 of the top 100 Negro League & Black Baseball players of all-time (as selected by SABR member James A. Riley for Gary Gillette’s and Pete Palmer’s ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia). Riley, author of the landmark Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, is an historical consultant to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Hamtramck Stadium’s resident superstar was Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, a stellar left-handed slugger and one of the greatest home run hitters in baseball history. Posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2000, Stearnes patrolled center field while pounding opposing pitchers during his two decade-long career in baseball’s segregated era. The fearsome power hitter played for the Detroit Stars from 1923-1931 and in 1937. Stearnes hit .344 and led the Negro National League in extra base hits during the Stars’ pennant drive in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium’s inaugural season. In 1931, Detroit’s superstar led the league in runs, hits, extra base hits, and home runs.

“My family and I are elated to hear the news about Hamtramck Stadium,” said Joyce Stearnes Thompson, daughter of Turkey Stearnes, whose family remains in the Detroit area. “Hopefully, now steps will be taken to restore this wonderful field with a wealth of historic value and memories.”

Hamtramck Stadium is a brick, steel, and concrete structure built in 1930 by Detroit Stars owner John Roesink, a local businessman and promoter of semi-pro baseball. It was the home field of the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and in 1933. The Stadium was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the short-lived Negro East-West League in 1932 and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937. The deciding games of the 1930 Negro National League Championship Series were played in Hamtramck, with Detroit losing in seven exciting games to the St. Louis Stars.

The Stadium was acquired by the City of Hamtramck in 1940 and renovated in 1941 by the Wayne County Road Commission using WPA funds. Its current configuration dates to the 1970s. The grandstand has not been used since the 1990s, but remains in good shape while awaiting renovation.

The application for historic designation for Hamtramck Stadium was prepared by a volunteer team shepherded by Rebecca Binno Savage, historic preservation lead at Kraemer Design Group, PLC, in Detroit. Ms. Binno Savage is a resident of Hamtramck and was a member of the Mayor’s Committee to Save Hamtramck Stadium, chaired by City Council Member Cathie Gordon. Gary Gillette, a nationally known baseball historian and a Detroit resident, sparked the effort to save the historic Stadium with his presentation to Hamtramck City Council in 2010. Gillette also researched the Stadium’s historical significance for the Mayor’s Committee and made the successful presentation to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Review Board in Lansing in January 2012.

Hamtramck Stadium is located at 3201 Dan Street, a block east of Jos. Campau Street in Veterans Memorial Park on the south side of Hamtramck.

For more information, visit HamtramckStadium.org or contact Gary Gillette of 24-7 Baseball.

Originally published: August 3, 2012. Last Updated: August 3, 2012.