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Suttles let bat, not legs, do the talking

Suttles let his bat, not his legs do the talking

George "Mule" Suttles might have been a ballplayer ahead of his time, because if any hitter in the history of the Negro Leagues was tailor-made for designated-hitter duties, it was Suttles.

A short, powerful man who built his muscles in the coal mines of Louisiana, the slow-footed Suttles came by his signature nickname for legitimate reasons. To the stubborn Suttles, the only thing that seemed to matter was the home run.

"Gol, he could hit a ball nine miles," Tigers second baseman and Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer said in Richard Bak's "Cobb Would Have Caught It." "I remember [Earl] Whitehill was our pitcher, and he couldn't get Suttles out. And Whitehill was a good pitcher. Suttles wore poor ol' Whitehill out."

Ol' Whitehill didn't know the half of it.

Suttles, one of 39 Negro League players and executives being considered this month for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, wore out pitchers across the baseball landscape.

His powerful bat might have been impressive enough to convince the 12-member panel that votes on the 39 candidates to select him on Feb. 27 for induction. The panel could do worse.

Although baseball historians considered Suttles a one-dimensional player, they raved about that one dimension. They saw in Suttles a hitter who had the kind of lightning in his swing that made him a welcome addition to great Negro League teams like the St. Louis Stars and the Newark Eagles.

"A free swinger who struck out frequently, Suttles was a low-ball hitter with a big, powerful swing who hit towering tape-measured home runs that are still remembered by his teammates," baseball historian James A. Riley wrote in "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues." "The players would yell, 'Kick Mule!' and he would 'kick' it out of the park."

Suttles used a 50-ounce bat to produce blasts that made him a legend throughout his long career in baseball. With the Stars in 1926, he batted .432, hit 26 homers and had a slugging percentage of 1.000.

More impressive than those raw statistics were the distances that Suttles hit baseballs.

Stories still are told of the homer the 195-pound Suttles hit in Cuba. The ball went over the center-field fence -- a 60-foot-high fence that stood 500 feet from home plate.

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His power was a frightening sight for opposing pitchers and players.

In his "Biographical Encyclopedia," Riley wrote of how even Leo "The Lip" Durocher respected the power of Suttles. In an exhibition game, Suttles was a home run short of a cycle, and Cubs pitcher "Big" Jim Weaver asked teammate Durocher, playing shortstop, how to pitch Suttles.

"Just pitch and pray," Durocher told Weaver.

After his 26 seasons in professional baseball, Suttles left the game littered with stories like this one, stories that reflected how well he played the game. His career in baseball proved productive from start to finish, and his longevity might well be attributed to his outlook on life.

Riley wrote that the easygoing Suttles expressed the reason for his longevity this way: "Don't worry about the Mule going blind, just load the wagon and give me the lines."

The teams he played on did just that.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. MLB.com staffer Brian Wilson contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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