This is my 2nd piece about a Negro Leagues great who deserves to be honored at Busch Stadium. You can read about Willie Wells here. I made the overall case for honoring Negro Leagues players at Busch Stadium here.
Three players for the Negro National League St. Louis Stars are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: James “Cool Papa” Bell, Willie Wells and George “Mule” Suttles.
Suttles was a power hitting 1st baseman and left fielder. Though his tenure with the Stars was the briefest of the trio - 6 years - he still ranks 4th in WAR among Stars players, behind only Wells, Bell and pitcher Logan Hensley. In his six seasons in St. Louis, Suttles posted an eye-popping slash line of: .377 / .443 / .741, good for a 191 OPS+.
During his years in St. Louis, Mule Suttles might very well have been the best hitter and the best power hitter in the world. And yes, that includes George Herman Ruth.
In 1926, Babe Ruth led the American (and National) League with 47 HRs. He homered once very 13.8 plate appearances. Mule Suttles hit 32 HRs in just 89 games: A rate of one HR every 12.4 PAs.
The comparisons went beyond their stat lines. Like Ruth, Suttles was a big man: 6’2” tall, 200 lbs early in his career and more like 250 toward the end. Both men swung an enormous 36” bat, with a weight in the 36 to 40 ounce range. There are stories of Suttles hitting a 500+ ft. home run into the ocean while playing in Cuba.
Like all the Stars greats, Suttles time in St. Louis ended abruptly when the club and league folded during the 1931 season. But he would keep playing through 1944, spending a total of 22 years in the Negro Leagues. His 193 HRs ranks 4th all-time in the league.
As with all of the Negro Leagues greats, The Seamheads Negro League Database is an invaluable tool to see exactly the kind of player Suttles was. For too long, these players were remembered only to whatever extent they had been memorialized in these folk tales of the Negro Leagues. And even for a player like Suttles - who was compared to Ruth and fit the “gentle giant” archetype - the lore was not enough to keep him from nearly vanishing into obscurity.
Suttles played his final seasons in Newark, then stuck around to do some coaching and eventually managed a bar. He died of cancer in 1966. It was not until a full 40 years later that Suttles was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
His niece, Merriett Burley, who accepted his plaque at the 2006 induction ceremony, spoke to the fact that Suttles had nearly been forgotten.
“We always wondered why Uncle George was never mentioned,” she said. “They always mentioned Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, but they never mentioned Uncle George.”
The Cardinals have established a precedent where retired numbers and/or statues are reserved for players who have reached the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They’ve chosen to extend that honor beyond Cardinals players by including statues of Cool Papa Bell (Stars) and George Sisler (Browns).
Mule Suttles, like Willie Wells, should likewise be honored at Busch Stadium.