Hamtramck Stadium

Historic Hamtramck Stadium is one of only five Negro League home ballparks still in existence. The grandstand and field are in Veterans Memorial Park on the south side of Hamtramck. The Stadium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. In 2014, a State of Michigan Historic Marker was dedicated at the site. On January 12, 2017, Hamtramck Stadium was the recipient of a National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grant for pre-development planning.
FHHS launched its first online fundraiser on March 4, 2019, via the Patronicity.com platform. Video and details below.

Thanks 50,000 Times

With the support of more than 300 donors, the Patronicity crowdfunding campaign launched by the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium and the Piast Institute has exceeded its $50,000 goal!

We are very grateful for the outpouring of support and will soon be getting to work on restoring the historic field in conjunction with the Hamtramck Stadium Grounds Crew.

More to come soon.

FHHS launches new campaign to restore historic Hamtramck Stadium

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

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.

“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.

FHHS Board of Directors

Gary Gillette (founder and president)
Author, editor, consultant, and historian Gary Gillette has written, edited, or contributed to dozens of baseball books and websites, including ESPN.com, Baseball Prospectus, and TotalBaseball.com. He was the creator and editor of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, executive editor of the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia, a contributor to six editions of the seminal encyclopedia Total Baseball, and is currently a historical consultant to Baseball-Reference.com.

Gillette was the lead author on the massive 2009 book Big League Ballparks: The Complete Illustrated History of Major-League Baseball Parks. As a director and officer of the Tiger Stadium Conservancy, Gillette fought for years to save the historic stadium and the hallowed field at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. As founder and president of the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, he led the successful effort to place one of the few remaining Negro League home ballparks on the National Register of Historic Places and is now leading the effort to restore the historic site. A former director of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Gillette is the founder and chair of SABR’s Detroit Chapter, as well as past co-chair of SABR’s Business of Baseball Committee and SABR’s Ballparks Committees.

Michael Wilson

For more than three decades, Coach Mike Wilson has trained and mentored thousands of youth in the great game of baseball.

Wilson was born in Hamtramck and graduated from Detroit Mackenzie High in 1974, excelling in both football and baseball. In 1976, he was selected in the winter professional baseball draft by the Detroit Tigers and spent several years playing minor league ball in the Tigers and Seattle Mariners systems.

In 1980, Wilson launched his youth baseball coaching career in California, where he worked under the tutelage of former Negro Leaguers Chet Brewer and John Moseley and helped train future major leaguer Chili Davis.

In 1997, Coach Wilson moved home to Detroit and became an assistant coach at DePorres High for two years under Coach Mark Brown. In 2003, Coach Wilson became head coach at his alma mater, Mackenzie High, where he coached for three years.

In 2008, Coach Wilson joined the Detroit Eagles, a 15 and Under travel team that won the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) world championship in 2008.

In 2003 Mike and his wife, Margaret, developed a nonprofit youth development organization called Abundant Care Training Services (ACTS Detroit). In 2007 they partnered with DPS and began operating the Woodbridge Community Youth Center in a former Detroit Public School building. In 2010 Coach Wilson co-founded and developed the Woodbridge Baseball Academy designed to revive baseball in the urban community.

The WBA produced three travel teams (Woodbridge Eagles) each year to provide advanced competition for player development and elite competition. The Woodbridge Eagles won five travel tournaments and three runner-up finishes in three years. And in 2016, the Eagles 12 and Under team won the Hometown World Series sponsored by the Detroit Tigers.

Coach Wilson is also an ordained minister and has amassed over 25 years of business management experience in both the public and private sectors.

Ian Perrotta
Ian Perrotta is a Hamtramck City Councilman, the owner of Trixie’s Bar, and a student at Wayne State Law School. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg with degrees in English Writing and Political Science, Ian has been an active member of the Hamtramck community since 2009, and previously served as chair of the Neighborhood Restoration and Economic Development Committee for the Hamtramck Weed and Seed program.

In addition to being a reporter and copy editor for the Hamtramck Review, Ian is also a co-founder of the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium.

Tom Niczay
Since 2007, Tom has served as the superintendent of Hamtramck Public Schools. A graduate of Wayne State University, Tom previously served Hamtramck Public Schools as principal of Holbrook School (1988-1995) and Dickinson East (1995-2007).

Thomas A. Habitz Jr.
Hamtramck resident Thomas Habitz is a practicing urban planner and active local volunteer. Tom serves on Hamtramck’s planning and zoning boards, and has coached for years in Hamtramck’s youth baseball leagues. He’s also a longtime baseball and basketball official. These activities speak to Tom’s passion for sustainable and walkable communities, and the revitalization of spaces that are important to the Detroit region. He’s excited for the re-opening of Hamtramck Stadium to promote the past and future of baseball in our community.

Debra Walker
A longtime purchasing executive with Chrysler, Debra spent years working in Mexico and Germany [while Daimler Chrysler] training employees on cost-reduction initiatives. Led the team that saved Chrysler millions of dollars, passed on to employees as largest profit sharing. Also worked in Lean Production and Minority Supplier Development, helping to create jobs while growing companies. Initiated Chrysler community outreach programs.

Debra also serves on the boards of the Michigan Cancer Foundation / Karmanos Peoples Community Services, Alternatives for Girls, and the Corktown Economic Development Corporation.

Ray Skrzyniarz

Born in Hamtramck, the grandson of Polish immigrants, Ray Skrzyniarz graduated from St. Ladislaus and was an all-star catcher in Little League, Pony League, Colt League, and American Legion, playing many of his home games at Hamtramck Stadium alongside many future major leaguers, including the Paciorek brothers. Ray also played at Tiger Stadium and even played in the Colt League World Series.

A graduate of Western Michigan University, Ray taught at Marysville High School for 40 years.

Ray is married to the former Virginia Irvin, co-founder of the Piast Institute, a national institute for Polish and Polish American affairs.

The stadium we are seeking to save is more than just an artifact of Black history or a reminder some of the most memorable parts of Hamtramck’s history, Ray says. It’s an icon of America’s story.

Layna Fernandez
The daughter of former Detroit Tiger Chico Fernandez, Layna Fernandez is a graduate of Detroit Public Schools and Wayne County Community College who has spent a remarkable teaching career at the National Institute of Technology-Everest Institute and Baker College.

In her spare time, Layna is active in the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Girls on the Run, and the American Heart Association. Layna is proud to join the board of the Friends and even prouder to help carry on her father’s legacy.

Paul Wilk
Paul Wilk is the former fire chief and fire marshal of the City of Hamtramck, and past president of the Hamtramck Firefighters Association.

SABR Detroit Chapter meeting, June 14, 2015

Charles Leerhsen, author of the award-winning 2015 biography Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty was the featured speaker at the Detroit chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research meeting on Sunday, June 14, 2015. Leerhsen took questions and signed copies of his book after he spoke.

SABR Detroit Chapter president Gary Gillette also spoke about Ty Cobb’s 1930 appearance at Hamtramck Stadium, when the Tigers’ superstar threw out the first pitch at the grand opening of the Negro League ballpark. Alexis Morris of Syracuse University discussed her thesis research about the Negro Leagues, the African-American community in Detroit, and how Black Baseball and the Detroit Stars aided in creating a sense of community for Great Migration blacks.

This meeting took place on Sunday, June 14, at the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle.


An ode to Hamtramck Stadium

Joyce Stearnes Thompson, daughter of Baseball Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes, spoke recently at a gathering of the Eddie Lake Society, a longtime group of Detroit Tigers fans and baseball aficionados founded by the late Joe Falls.

After regaling her audience with tales of her famous father (who starred in the Negro Leagues from 1923-1940), Joyce ended by reciting a poem she’d written in honor of Hamtramck Stadium, followed by a beautiful song in tribute to her father:

Ode to Historic Hamtramck Stadium

How can I tell you about the heritage of this Historic Hamtramck Stadium
An amazing place where I never had a chance to see Dad or the Detroit Stars play;
Memories that can only be envisioned in my mind of one of the best teams ever
Turkey, a nickname given to my father because of the way he ran the bases
Remarkable! Respectful and revered, with many records lost or never recorded
Awesome and exciting describe the way the Negro Leaguers played
Many games were played in this classic ballpark, packed with adoring fans
Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige contributed to the legacy, so don’t let it die
Keep it alive as a reminder for kids interested in playing baseball or other sports

Save this field! Segregation is a thing of the past. Corporate sponsorship is a must!
Today begins the time for redemption for all of the talented players who
Accomplished much, but were denied the chance to play in the Major Leagues
Denied because of the color of their skin and then their dreams were shattered
Imagine the pain they felt. Still, they impacted the game and loved the ballpark.
Understand the importance of restoring this historic and rustic grandstand
Maintenance will surely be provided by the magnificent, dedicated Navin Field Grounds Crew,
who continue to show their love for Tiger Stadium

A Short History of Hamtramck Stadium

Hamtramck Stadium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in July 2012 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 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 a 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 three-person team led 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, created by Mayor Karen Majewski in 2010. The other volunteers on the team who worked for more than a year to prepare the application were Ian Perrotta and Gary Gillette, both also members of the Mayor’s Committee. Hamtramck resident Perrotta, then a reporter for the Hamtramck Review newspaper, served as the PR director for the campaign and created the original Hamtramck Stadium Web site. Perrotta is now a Hamtramck business owner and was re-elected to City Council in November 2017. 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.

Mr. Gillette, Mr. Perrotta, and Ms. Binno Savage co-founded the nonprofit Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium (FHHS) in 2012 and spearheaded the effort to get approval of a State of Michigan Historic Marker for Hamtramck Stadium in 2014. On August 14, 2014, the marker, newly installed by Perrotta, was unveiled in a ceremony in Veterans Park. FHHS continues its work to document the historical significance of Hamtramck Stadium, to publicize its history, and to raise funds for the restoration of Hamtramck’s own Field of Dreams.

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.

History of the Detroit Stars

Detroit was one of the most important markets for black baseball in the first half of the twentieth century, playing a key role by fielding clubs in four separate major Negro Leagues. After the onset of the Great Depression, however, all of those teams struggled to survive, despite Detroit’s growing population of African-Americans.

The Detroit Stars were formed in 1919 as an independent black baseball club by pioneering future Hall of Fame executive Rube Foster of Chicago. The Stars played other professional black ballclubs along with black and white semipro teams. A year later, Foster founded the first major black league, the Negro National League, with the Detroit Stars as one of its eight charter members. Foster installed Detroiter Tenny Blount as the new team’s president, and the Stars finished second in the NNL’s inaugural campaign of 1920. Detroit finished second in 1923 and 1926, as well, while generally staying in the NNL’s first division for most of the decade. The Stars also continued to compete very successfully in semi-pro baseball tournaments.

White Detroit haberdasher John Roesink bought the Stars in 1925. (Roesink is frequently described as Jewish in both contemporary and historical newspaper articles and books, although recent scholarship has confirmed that he was not, in fact, Jewish.) A sports promoter very involved with semi-pro baseball, Roesink owned Mack Park on Detroit’s East Side, where the Stars played from 1919 until 1929. Although a fire at Mack Park on July 7, 1929, destroyed the main grandstand, the Stars played the rest of the 1929 season there before moving to their new facility in Hamtramck.

No source has yet been found that documents why Roesink chose to relocate the Stars to Hamtramck. Many factors could have played a role in his decision, including the deteriorated condition of Mack Park even before the fire. Numerous references of the time comment on Mack Park’s dilapidation, which, for a 15-year-old wooden structure, wouldn’t have been unusual. One source even says that Mack Park had been condemned a year before the relocation.

A major influence on the site choice was the proximity of Hamtramck to Paradise Valley, the heart of Detroit’s growing African-American community located east and north of downtown. The Detroit Street Railway’s lengthy Baker Streetcar Line ran along Jos. Campau Street through Hamtramck, Paradise Valley, and downtown Detroit on its way to and from Ford’s enormous Rouge Complex, carrying thousands of Polish and African-American workers to their factory jobs. Those same streetcars provided quick and convenient access to the new ballpark site for many fans of the Stars, who wouldn’t have to pay for a transfer like many would have had to do to get to old Mack Park.

Roesink leased a parcel of land on the closed Hamtramck yard of the Detroit Lumber company instead of purchasing it, which must have been extremely inexpensive during the Depression. Another possible financial incentive was avoiding Detroit taxes: While Mack Park was located in Detroit in 1929, it had been built by Roesink in Grosse Pointe Township just outside of Detroit years before the land was annexed by the expanding city.

Finally, as historian Dr. Thaddeus Radzilowski has noted, relations between Detroit’s African-American and Polish communities ? while not perfect ? were reasonably good in 1930 and lacked much of the friction between African-Americans and other white ethnic groups. Roesink, a friend of Hamtramck mayor Rudy Tenerowicz, likely had that in mind in selecting his new location.

Playing in newly built Hamtramck Stadium in 1930, Detroit won the NNL second-half title before losing the League Championship Series in seven games to St. Louis. Roesink lost control of the Stars after the 1930 season. Under new ownership, the Stars, along with the NNL, fell victim to the Depression during the 1931 season.

In 1932, Detroit saw the birth of a new franchise in a new league: the Detroit Wolves of the East-West League, whose roster included five future Hall of Famers. As ranked by noted black baseball historian James A. Riley, center fielder “Cool Papa” Bell, shortstop Willie “The Devil” Wells, and pitcher “Smokey Joe” Williams were three of the 10?greatest black ballplayers of the segregated era. The Wolves also featured premier slugger/first baseman Mule Suttles and star pitcher Ray Brown. They posted the best record in the NEWL before both Detroit and the league collapsed in midseason.

The following year, a new incarnation of the Detroit Stars would take the field, along with a new Negro National League. While the new NNL would last until 1948, these Stars went out of business after the 1933 season. For the next three years, Detroit was without a Negro League home team.

Detroit became a charter member of the new Negro American League in 1937, again invoking the storied?Stars?name. That club would last but one summer, and Detroit would have no hometown Negro League team until 1954 when yet another Detroit Stars club appeared in the NAL, a league barely clinging to existence after integration of the formerly white major and minor leagues.

Unquestionably, the greatest player who spent the majority of his career in Detroit was Norman “Turkey” Stearnes. A power-hitting center fielder, Stearnes was one of the best home run hitters in the Negro Leagues. Stearnes was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fall in 2000, 21 years after his death. Stearnes made his Negro League debut in 1923 with Detroit, playing for the Stars until 1930. After a brief absence, he rejoined the team in 1931. He also played for the successor Stars in 1937.

Other Hall of Famers who played for the Stars in the 1920s or 1930s included third baseman Ray Dandridge (enshrined in Cooperstown in 1987), pitcher Andy Cooper, and outfielders Pete Hill and Cristobal Torriente (all enshrined in 2006). Stars like Bruce Petway, Bingo DeMoss, Bill Holland, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, and Candy Jim Taylor also wore a Detroit uniform during the Negro Leagues era.