Baseball Hall of Fame member George “Mule” Suttles (1900- 1966) was a Negro League slugger and former member of the Birmingham Black Barons; he is probably the all-time home run leader for the Negro League. His 237 documented home runs in 19 seasons in the Negro League tops the list of most Negro League historians. He made the hits using a 50-ounce bat, possibly the heaviest bat ever used by a regular player in organized baseball.
Suttles was born on March 31, 1900, in Blocton, a now-defunct coal mining town in Bibb County, to James and Earlie Suttles. The second oldest of six siblings, Suttles reportedly worked in the coal mines of Blocton as a youngster, building up his strength and playing for the local Cahaba Coal Company industrial team. His brother Charlie also was a star for the team until he broke his leg in a mine accident.
Suttles broke into professional baseball at the age of 17 in 1918, two years before the establishment of the Negro National League. He got into one game with the New York Bacharach Giants in 1921 and then entered the Negro National League by joining the Birmingham Black Barons in 1923 as an outfielder. While playing with the Barons, Suttles went from a .283 batting average in his rookie season to hitting a league-leading .428 in his third. In his five seasons with the Barons, Suttles hit 25 home runs. Some historians believe that his home run total was hampered somewhat by playing home games in Rickwood Field, where the centerfield fence was 485 feet from home plate. It was also at Birmingham that he started playing first base, the position that would become his favorite and the one most associated with his prime years.
Suttles left the Barons in 1926 to sign with the St. Louis Stars, with whom he would play for seven seasons. In his first year with the Stars, he was named the Negro National League’s Most Valuable Player, hitting either .423 or .498 for the season (sources differ). He also became the first player in Negro National League history to hit more than 20 home runs, 20 triples, and 20 doubles in the 1926 season in only 78 games. Suttles missed the entire 1927 season after sustaining a head injury from being hit by a pitch but returned the following season, never hitting below .349 for the Stars. During his tenure, the team won three Negro National League championships.
The St. Louis Stars disbanded after the 1931 season, and Suttles split one season between the Detroit Wolves and the Washington (D.C.) Pilots. In 1933, he joined the Chicago American Giants for three seasons, averaging between .265 and .293. In 1933, he also was the first person to hit a home run in the newly established Negro East-West All-Star game.
Suttles became a Newark Eagle in 1936, joining the so-called “million-dollar infield” of Dick Seay at second and future Major League Baseball Hall of Fame members Willie Wells at shortstop and Ray Dandridge at third base. Although age was beginning to take its toll on his skills (he would have been about 36 when he joined the team), Suttles nevertheless averaged .316 in his initial season with the Eagles and made two more All-Star teams. He then played in the 1941 season with the New York Black Yankees but hit only .222. After returning to the Newark Eagles for one more season in 1942, seeing limited playing time, Suttles spent the 1943 season as the manager of the Eagles and officially retired from the Negro National League in 1944.
Little is known about Suttles after he retired from playing in the Negro Leagues, other than that he worked as an umpire for the league. He settled in Newark, New Jersey, and is known to have continued playing baseball on local industrial teams. He was married, but little is known about when or where that occurred, other than that his wife’s name was Lucille. Suttles died in Newark on July 9, 1966, and was buried in Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
In 2006, the National Baseball Hall of Fame formed the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues to identify players whose achievements in the pre-Robinson years warranted inclusion. That same year, George “Mule” Suttles became the fourth former member of the Birmingham Black Barons to enter the Hall of Fame.
Holway, John B. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History. Fern Park, Fla.: Hastings House 2001.
Lester, Larry. Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
Powell, Larry. Black Barons of Birmingham: The South’s Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.
Riley, James A. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (pp. 753-755). New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994.