According to Louisville’s local Fox-TV affiliate (Fox 41), Hall of Famer George “Mule” Suttles, veteran of the now-defunct Negro Leagues, had a 37-inch pole. Okay, not that pole. Talking about the big lumber one waggles back and forth across the plate, in an effort to redirect 90-mile-an-hour fastballs and 12/6 benders. But the word is (and everybody seems to be in agreement here), big George- a super slugger with the St. Louis Stars in the 1920s- waggled a mighty long weapon. Heavy, too.
This is one of those press-release deals, strategically distributed to coincide with major holidays or historical anniversaries. I’ll fess up to being a sucker for these quirky little fillers, because they’re usually loaded with the sort of minutiae my little brain finds attractive. You know, around the 4th of July, there’ll be breaking news about an elderly gentleman in Vermont who stumbled across an old trunk in his attic containing a set of George Washington’s wooden teeth. Or, during Woman’s History Month: a revelation from the medical research community regarding the discovery of a soft spot for men in Gloria Steinem’s heart. Or, around Christmas time, we learn of yet another mysterious benefactor maiming a Salvation Army bell ringer with a sack of gold kluggerands. I love this stuff.
Not so coincidentally, the Suttles information found legs in the middle of Black History Month, courtesy of the Louisville Slugger Museum in Kentucky. According to the museum’s currator, Dan Cohen, after years of searching its archives, the historic bat manufacturer had finally uncovered documentation connecting them with a specific Negro League player. The artifact? An order form for one George “Mule” Suttles, circa late 1930s, when he was a member of the Newark Eagles.
According to P.J. Shelly, the museum’s Tour and Programming Director, “Nobody had any proof that we (Hillerich & Bradsby) made any bats for the Negro Leaguers and here we found it.”
This was a gutsy move by the Louisville Slugger Museum, which- by sharing this information- ran the very serious risk of getting some much needed national exposure. Turns out a couple galleries at the site have been under renovation since December and will be re-opened to the public in April of this year. A little bit of chatter on TV and the web doesn’t hurt matters as we spiral into baseball season.
By all accounts, the LSM is a pretty cool place to visit. My son has not one, but two, personally engraved bats from the museum, courtesy of relatives who visited the joint, although my son does not (as far as I can tell) care much for baseball.
Now back to Suttles’ custom weapon, there doesn’t appear to be anything on the order slip indicating it’s weight. He was said to have swung one of the heaviest models in baseball history, at around 50 ounces. For comparison’s sake, Ruth supposedly used a 54-ounce model early in his career, then switched to a 40 oz. bat in 1927. Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio used 42 ounce sticks . Ted Williams and Stan Musial used bats in the 31-33 ounce range, which is right in line with most of today’s players.
And as for the Negro League’s association with Hillerich & Bradsby? It’s well known that a lot of black ball players used the H&B product, but most of these were stock models, purchased at hardware and sporting goods stores. In a 1972 story published in The Sporting News, Hall of Famer Buck Leonard talked about the equipment used in the black leagues: