Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Negro League baseball history fact for today - George "Mule" Suttles

Image result for mule suttles

Below is an excerpt from my new book, Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, about George “Mule” Suttles who was born on March 31, 1900 or 1901.
“Because of the lack of documented Negro League baseball
Statistics, the total number of home runs hit by Suttles is not
known.  Supposedly, he led the Negro National League in round
trippers twice. There is an eyewitness account of a 500 foot home
run he hit over the centerfield fence at Griffith Stadium in
Washington, D.C.  Hall of Fame Negro Leaguer Willie Wells
frequently told the story of a 600 foot home run “Mule” hit at
Havana’s Tropical Park while playing in the Cuban Winter League.
The ball carried out of the stadium and over the heads of the Cuban
soldiers on horseback doing crowd control duty behind the fence.
Afterwards, a marker was supposedly placed at the spot the ball
landed commemorating “Mule’s” blast.  Another version of that
home run has it landing in the ocean.”

Suttles spent his time in Negro League baseball mainly with the Birmingham Black Barons, St. Louis Stars, Chicago American Giants, and Newark Eagles.  From 1926 – 1931 playing for St. Louis, he was one of the Negro National Leagues top home run sluggers.  In five East West All Star Games, Negro League baseball’s national showcase, Suttles hit .412 with two home runs and six RBI.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Negro League baseball history fact for today - Milton Smith

Milton “Milt” Smith was a Negro League player that made it to the Major Leagues for a brief time during the 1950s.  Born on March 27, 1929 in Columbus, Georgia; Smith began his career with the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1948.  Although once a Negro American League franchise, the Black Crackers by that time were a minor league black team.  However, a player of Smith’s talent did not go unnoticed.  By 1950 the right handed hitter was playing third base for the Negro American League’s Philadelphia Stars.

But as the new decade began, the “invisible color line” had been erased and Negro League baseball was in decline.  In 1952, Smith was signed by the San Diego Padres of the Triple AAA Pacific Coast minor league.  His teammates while with the Padres included former Negro League players Luke Easter and Theolic Smith.    After hitting .338, Milton Smith was signed by the Cincinnati Reds near the end of the 1955 season.

He made his Major League debut on July 21 against the Philadelphia Phillies.    Chuck Harmon and Bob Thurman, both former Negro League players, also saw action for the Reds that game.  Smith hit .196 in 36 games the remainder of the season with three home runs and eight RBIs.

After the season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals who then released him.  Smith played the rest of his career in the minor leagues retiring in 1961.

One of Milton Smith’s African American San Diego Padres teammates became a .300 hitter with the Chicago White Sox in the 1960s.  What was his name?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Negro League baseball history fact for today - George Altman

After finishing the 1962 National League season in sixth placed, the management hierarchy of the St. Louis Cardinals believed the team needed another slugger to hit alongside Ken Boyer, Bill White, and an aging Stan Musial.  In acquiring George Altman in a trade with the Chicago Cubs that fall, the Cardinals were confident he was the player that could provide the additional batting power the team wanted.

Born on March 20, 1933 in Greensboro, North Carolina; George Lee Altman played Negro League baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs after graduating from Tennessee A and I in 1955.  After only one season with the Monarchs, his contract was purchased by the Chicago Cubs.  Altman had 12 home runs and 47 RBI in 1959, his Major League rookie season.  Then he had breakout years in 1961 and 1962 becoming a National League All Star.  The 6’4”, 200 lb. first baseman and outfielder hit .303 in 1961(27 home runs and 96 RBI) and .318 in 1962 (22 home runs and 74 RBI).   

Altman’s performance with the Cardinals fell short of the high expectation generated by the trade.  No longer playing half of his games in the Cubs’ “hitter friendly” Wrigley Field, he saw his offensive production plunge in 1963 to only 9 homes runs and 47 RBI.  Despite not getting what it had hoped from Altman, the team finished in second place six games behind the National League pennant winning Los Angeles Dodgers.   

Declaring the acquiring of Altman a bust, the Cardinals traded him to the New York Mets the next season.  In 1965, he returned to the Cubs in a trade.  However, the talent level he displayed in 1961 and 1962 with the team was never reached again.  After the Cubs released him in 1967, Altman went on have seven successful years playing in Japan. 

What former HBCU graduate did the Chicago Cubs trade to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964?