By PJ Shelley, Tour and Programming Director
In honor of Black History Month, I would like to look back at one of my favorite stars of the Negro leagues, Mule Suttles. George “Mule” Suttles’ career coincided another George with a great nickname: George “Babe” Ruth. Like Ruth, Suttles hit for tremendous power but also had the ability to hit for a high average.
He earned his nickname because of his size, and fans hoping for a four-bagger would often encourage him to, “Kick, Mule, kick!” when at the plate. The hefty righty spent over 20 years in the Negro leagues, most notably for the St. Louis Stars, Chicago American Giants, and Newark Eagles. His playing career ended in 1944 and, like so many Negro league greats of his generation, he was never given an opportunity to play in the majors.
He did, however, have an opportunity to design his own bat model with our company, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. (H&B). Mule designed his S128 model with us in 1937, ten years before Jackie put on a Brooklyn Dodger uniform. While the lengths and weights of his Louisville Slugger bats varied, he frequently ordered 36-inch, 36-ounce bats. His S128 model will always have a special place in my heart as it was this model, in 2009, that allowed me to confirm H&B’s direct involvement with Negro league players in the 1930s. It was a particular thrill of mine to hold a game-used Suttles S128 bat that was loaned to the museum in 2012.
My favorite Suttles hit came in the 1935 East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Suttles was playing for the West alongside the league’s other home run leader, Josh Gibson. After nine innings, the game was knotted at four runs each. The East threatened in the top of the tenth, scoring four runs. But the West scored four of their own in the bottom of the frame with a rally that started with a Josh Gibson single and a Suttles walk.
The stage was set in the bottom of the eleventh inning, when the West got the potential winning run on second base with two outs. The East’s centerfielder, Martin Dihigo, came in to relieve screwball ace, Luis Tiant Sr., on the mound.
Dihigo was not your typical position player coming into relieve for mop-up duty. He was a proven star pitcher who would also play the field when not pitching. He finished his Hall of Fame career with over 250 wins and a batting average above .300. H&B signed him to a bat contract two years later in 1937.
But Dihigo’s first batter to face in this game was the feared Josh Gibson. Suttles, due up after Gibson, was itching for his chance to hit. So Mule sent the light-hitting pitcher, Sug Cornelius, to the on-deck circle. The ruse worked. Dihigo intentionally walked Gibson thinking he would face Cornelius. I can only imagine the shock Dihigo felt when cries of, “Kick, Mule, kick!” came pouring down from the stands as Sug returned to the dugout and Mule Suttles strode out.
The Mule did not disappoint. He “kicked” Dihigo’s offering deep into the upper right field stands of Comiskey for a dramatic walk-off three run blast.
Suttles was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. I was lucky enough to be working for the Hall of Fame that year and I witnessed his induction, along with 16 other long overdue Negro league candidates. And though Suttles passed away 40 years earlier, his niece was on the stage in Cooperstown to proudly read her uncle’s plaque.