Looking Back At One Of Detroit’s Finest

By Tony McClean
Updated: June 3, 2006

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Despite the presence of sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Gary Sheffield this season, the Detroit Tigers were one of the biggest disappointments in Major League Baseball this season.

However, when one looks at the overall baseball history of Detroit, most of it is sprinkled with great players and great teams that were a major part of the Negro Leagues.

The Motor City’s Negro League history can be traced back to the early days of the Negro National League. Formed by Hall of Famer Rube Foster, the league included the Detroit Stars who began play in 1919.

Operated by local gambler, John “Tenny” Blount, the Stars played at Mack Park and would feature several Negro League stars including pitcher Jose Mendez, catcher Bruce Petway, and Hall of Fame outfielder Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

One other standout for Detroit during that era was a power-hitting first baseman that hailed from Texas. Edgar Wesley, who also toiled for the Harrisburg Giants and Cleveland Hornets, was one the league’s best hitters for the Stars throughout the early twenties.

After playing for the Texas All-Stars in 1918 and a brief stint with Foster’s Chicago American Giants a year later, Wesley was traded to Detroit during the 1919 season.

In 20 games with the Stars, Wesley hit .300 and was named to the Western Division All-Star team. Over the next four seasons, Wesley would establish himself as one of Negro League baseball’s best power hitters.

From 1920 through 1923, Wesley finished in the top ten in homers, RBIs, and batting average. He led the league in homers in 1920 while also averaging a .321 clip during those seasons. His highest average came in 1923 when he hit a team-high .351.

That off-season, the Stars would play the St. Louis Browns of the American League in a exhibition series. Detroit would win the three-game series two games to one. Though Wesley went just two-for-nine during the series, both of his hits were key.

In Game One, St. Louis took an early 6-0 lead against Detroit starter Bill Force. However, the Stars would slowly chip away at the lead. Wesley opened the Stars’ scoring with a solo homer in the fifth inning.

Detroit rallied to score five runs in the sixth to tie the game at 6-6. Wesley then hit his second homer of the game in the ninth off Browns’ starter Dave Danforth to give Detroit the win.

Because of his hitting prowess, Wesley’s defensive skills were lightly regarded by some. However, the tall Texan was just as dependable with his glove as he was with his bat.

Described by his peers as “a man of excellent habits”, Wesley was a natural first baseman with good footwork around the bag. His quiet and unassuming nature also made him popular with fans and teammates alike.

After a season in Cuba (playing for Club Habana in 1924), Wesley returned to the Motor City and had arguably had the finest season of his career. Teaming with “Turkey” Stearnes, the pair were the league’s most potent 1-2 punch.

While Wesley led the league in RBIs (64), he and Stearnes were tied for the league lead in homers (28). Wesley finished with a career-high .424 batting average, second to Birmingham’s Mule Suttles .428 mark.

Both left handed pull hitters, Wesley and Stearnes took advantage of right field power alleys in Mack Park. Despite the efforts of the two sluggers, the Stars never really challenged for a league title.

Wesley would leave the Stars following the 1927 season. He would play four more seasons in the Negro Leagues before retiring with the New York Bacharach Giants in 1931.

Wesley spent most of his later years in Detroit before he passed away in July of 1966. Despite not reaching the postseason, he should be remembered as one of Negro League baseball’s most underrated stars.

NOTE: The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, and the Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball contributed to this article.