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George "Mule" Suttles

George Suttles
Nickname: Mule

Career: 1918-1944
Positions: 1b, rf, manager, umpire
Teams: Birmingham Black Barons (1923-1925), St. Louis Stars (1926-1931), Baltimore Black Sox (1930), Detroit Wolves (1932), Washington Pilots (1932), Cole's American Giants (1933-1935), Newark Eagles (1936-1940, 1942-1944), Indianapolis ABCs (1939), New York Black Yankees (1941-1942)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 6' 3''   Weight: 215
Born: March 2, 1901, Brockton, Louisiana
Died: 1968, Newark, New Jersey
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2006)

A great power hitter who swung for distance while still maintaining a good average, Suttles, using a big 50-ounce bat, generated as much power as anyone in black baseball. Exemplifying this accomplishment are his stats after joining the St. Louis Stars in 1926, where he is credited with 26 home runs, a .432 batting average and a 1.000 slugging percentage, and his 1930 season statistics, showing a .384 batting average to pair with a .837 slugging percentage, which produced a home run for each 10.1 at bats.

At St. Louis, Stars' Park, with the trolleycar barn in left field, was an inviting target for a right-handed pull hitter, but Suttles was so strong that he didn't need the benefit of the short left-field fence and accumulated his impressive power totals without pulling the ball.

A free-swinger who struck out frequently, Suttles was a low-ball hitter with a big, powerful swing who hit towering tape-measure home runs that are still remembered by his teammates. The players would yell "Kick Mule!" and he would "kick" it out of the park. In Havana's Tropical Park, the centerfield fence is 60 feet high and more than 500 feet from the plate. Teammate Willie Wells recalled a gargantuan drive that carried over the heads of the soldiers on horseback riding crowd control duty behind the fence, a total of about 600 feet. Afterward, a marker was placed at the spot, commemorating the prodigious homer.

Leon Day remembers the day Suttles hit one over the centerfield fence in Washington's Griffith Stadium, and Ray Dandridge recalls a game in Louisville when one of Suttles's towering flies traveled more than 500 feet but was caught in deepest centerfield. Another teammate told of a game in 1929 when Suttles hit 3 home runs in a single inning against the Memphis Red Sox, and the next time he came to the plate, the Memphis team walked off the field.

With limited mobility, the hulking slugger's play afield was not impressive, either at first base or in the outfield. However, while not a graceful first sacker, he did handle everything he could reach, and his fielding was more than sufficient to complement his batting prowess.

The big right-hander's heavy hitting solidified his presence in the heart of the lineups of some of black baseball's best teams. As an outfielder for the St. Louis Stars, Suttles hit .355 in 1929, and he supplied the power for the Stars to win championships in 1928, 1930, and 1931. In the 1928 championship playoffs against the Chicago American Giants he had a excellent Series at the plate and helped slug the Stars to a championship.

The 1931 pennant was the last in the history of the first Negro National League, with the league falling victim to the Depression, and the Stars' own demise closely following. After the Stars disbanded, Suttles jumped from one team to another, playing with the Washington Pilots and the Detroit Stars before eventually joining Robert A. Cole's Chicago American Giants.

In Chicago, manager Dave Malarcher corrected the slugger's tendency to overswing, and Suttles responded with a .315 batting average while generating a home run for each 13.5 at bats to help power the club to the 1933 championship. During the ensuing winter he continued his power production, counting 14 home runs among his hits on the way to a .325 batting average in the Cuban League.

When financial difficulties befell the American Giants in 1936, Suttles joined the Newark Eagles as a first baseman and became a part of the celebrated "million-dollar infield" of 1937, while hitting .356 and averaging a homer for each 12.7 at bats. Obviously the slugger had found a second home, and his numbers indicate the success he enjoyed in Newark. His marks show a .396 batting average and 36 home runs in 1936, a .420 batting average and 26 home runs in 1938, and a .325 average in 1939.

These marks earned the slugger two more East-West All Star appearances to go with the three he had made with Chicago. He was also picked for the 1938 All Star game but was withheld from the contest by the Eagles, and when the East lost, second-guessers were furious. Suttles, who liked to hit in clutch situations and was considered by teammate Willie Wells to be the best 1-run hitter ever, was one of the first All Star game heroes, clouting 2 homers in dramatic fashion.

In the inaugural game, he hit the first home run in All Star competition to lead the West to victory. Two years later, Suttles resorted to trickery to set the stage for an even more dramatic home run. In the eleventh inning, with Josh Gibson at the plate, 2 outs, and the winning run on second base, Suttles had pitcher Sug Cornelius kneel in the on deck circle to fool the East brain trust into thinking he was the next batter, so they would intentionally walk Gibson. The ploy worked and Gibson was purposely passed to pitch to Cornelius. But it was really Suttles who was the next batter, and he provided the crowd with a Hollywood ending, with a towering shot off Martin Dihigo for another West victory. Although Suttles, who usually swung from the heels, was not a high-contact hitter, the totals for his five years of All Star competition show a .412 batting average and an incredible .883 slugging percentage.

In April 1939 he was "loaned" to the Indianapolis ABCs to play a game against the Homestead Grays. Their owner, Cum Posey, was incensed at the tactic and protested vehemently. Suttles was also often sought for barnstorming tours. In an exhibition game against major leaguers with Chicago Cubs' pitcher Big Jim Weaver on the mound, Suttles singled, doubled, and tripled. When he came up to bat for the fourth time, Weaver asked shortstop Leo Durocher how to pitch to the big slugger and Durocher answered, "Just pitch and pray." The advice was well founded, as Suttles is credited with a .374 lifetime batting average in exhibitions against major-leaguers.

The prodigious home runs hit by the big Louisiana native were powered by muscles developed in the coal mines of Birmingham, where Suttles played semi-pro ball on the mining teams of the area. These teams would form the nucleus for the Birmingham Black Barons in later years, and Suttles' older brother Charles was also a good player but broke his leg in the mines the same year that he was supposed to report to the Negro National League. Suttles was more fortunate and began his professional career at age seventeen. He played twenty-six years before bowing out as an active player, leaving behind a .338 lifetime average in league play. His longevity may be attributed to his outlook on life, which he expressed, "Don't worry about the Mule going blind, just load the wagon and give me the lines."

In 1941 the Eagles traded Suttles to the New York Black Yankees during the summer, but he returned during the next season, and in 1943 he was given the Eagles' managerial reins. As a manager he controlled his emotions on the field and was a patient hitting instructor. Off the field he was a gentle person, but jovial and frequently joking and kidding around. After retiring from baseball he lived in Newark until he died from cancer in 1968. He told the younger players, "When I die, have a little thought for my memory, but don't mourn too much." Suttles was inducted posthumously into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.

George "Mule" Suttles photo

George "Mule" Suttles