The Detroit Stars played their first game on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919, at Mack Park on Detroit's East Side. They defeated the 1918 city champion Maxwell Internationals, a powerful white semi-pro team, in front of 3500 fans. The Maxwells' roster included one former major-leaguer and at least four former minor-leaguers.
Entrepreneur Rube Foster of Chicago, the "Father of Black Baseball", attended the Stars' debut. Foster was instrumental in setting up the Stars and may have had an ownership interest in the club, though the owner of record was Detroiter Tenny Blount.
The Stars' captain and manager was Hall of Fame outfielder Pete Hill, whose team included Hall of Famer Jose Mendez and veteran Black Baseball stars like pitcher John Donaldson and catcher Bruce Petway. Hall of Fame pitcher Andy Cooper joined the club in 1920.
In 1920, the Detroit Stars became charter members of Rube Foster's Negro National League (NNL). The new league had eight members, including fabled teams like the Chicago American Giants, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Indianapolis ABCs.
The Stars' inaugural game as members of the NNL was played at Mack Park in Detroit on May 15, 1920, when they defeated the Cuban Stars. Detroit finished second in the league in 1920, runners-up to Foster's American Giants.
The founding of the new league was a watershed moment in Black Baseball history, as the Negro National League became the first successful league of the segregated era, clearly demonstrating that African American players were good enough to play in the major leagues and had been kept out solely due to blatant discrimination.
The NNL prospered in the 1920s as the ongoing Great Migration swelled the African American populations of Detroit as well as other Northern and Midwestern industrial cities.
The Stars played at Mack Park through 1929, when a July fire destroyed the main grandstand. Although they finished the 1929 season at Mack Park, opposition to rebuilding from white citizens in the neighborhood forced them to relocate in 1930.
Featuring great players like Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente as well as Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and Bingo DeMoss, Detroit fielded a contending club throughout the 1920s. However, the Stars never won a pennant. The closest they came was in their first season at new Hamtramck Stadium in 1930 when they won the second-half NNL title before losing the Negro National League Championship Series to St. Louis in seven hard-fought-games. Stearnes' heroic performance powered the Stars, as Detroit's superstar hit .467 and slammed 3 homers and 8 extra-base hits in the seven games, scoring 9 runs and driving in 11.
Undoubtedly the greatest black player to spend most of his career in Detroit, Norman "Turkey" Stearnes was a five-tool player originally from Nashville, Tennessee. He was fast on the bases, hit for both power and average, and played a top-notch center field. Stearnes won six home run titles and holds the Negro League career record for home runs. The left-handed hitter was one of the greatest sluggers of all-time - black or white.
Stearnes made his major Negro League debut in 1923 with Detroit, playing for the Stars through 1931 as well as in 1937. He also starred for the Chicago American Giants and Kansas City Monarchs in the 1930s. Stearnes worked at the Rouge plant for 27 years, becoming a UAW member in 1941 when Ford's was organized. He raised his family and lived in Detroit until his death in 1979. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fall in Cooperstown in 2000.
Victims of the Great Depression, the Stars folded along with the league in 1931. In 1932, the Detroit Wolves - featuring five future Hall of Famers - played in Hamtramck for half a season until the new Negro East-West League also failed.
In 1933, the Indianapolis ABCs relocated to the Motor City, becoming a new version of the Detroit Stars. They played in Hamtramck for one year before folding. Slick-fielding Hall of Fame infielder Ray Dandridge made his professional debut with the Stars in 1933.
In 1937, the semi-pro Titus Detroit Giants became charter members of the new Negro American League (NAL), adopting the storied Detroit Stars name. They, too, lasted only one summer, becoming the last major Negro League team to hail from Detroit.
In 1954, Ted Rasberry's semi-pro Grand Rapids Black Sox moved to Motown, joined the Negro American League, and rebadged themselves as the Detroit Stars. After the integration of the formerly all-white major and minor leagues, however, the NAL had declined to minor-league in quality. Though the 1950s Stars played mostly on the road, they did play some games at Briggs (later Tiger) Stadium when the Detroit Tigers were out of town. Prior to the 1950s, the Detroit Stars were never allowed to play at Navin Field or Briggs Stadium by the Tigers' owners.
This last incarnation of the Detroit Stars folded after 1961 along with the greatly debilitated NAL, marking the end of the Negro League era.