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Negro Leagues Baseball

John "Mule" Miles

Q&A with Negro Leagues Baseball star John 'Mule' Miles

By Lorne Chan -San Antonio Express-News

John “Mule” Miles once hit a home run in 11 straight games, but he didn't think at the time that he or his league would ever be recognized.

Miles accomplished the feat playing for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro Leagues.

Miles, 88, joined Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Tuesday to unveil a traveling exhibit called “Discover Greatness: An Illustrated History of the Negro Baseball Leagues.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Bexar County Courthouse until Aug. 31. Miles is a member of the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame and the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame.

What's it like for you to see an exhibit like this?
This is wonderful. Playing in the Negro Leagues was one of the greatest things I ever did, to play baseball at the major league level. I didn't make a lot of money, but I had a lot of fun.

I never thought we would get this recognition when I was playing. But I've been able to see it with my own eyes.

It's a great honor.

You played alongside stars including Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Who was the best one you faced?
Satchel Paige. He's the greatest player to ever pitch, black or white. There was one game, some guy in the stands told Satchel that he was an “overrated darkie.” We said to Satchel, “Did you hear that? What are you going to do?”The bases were loaded, and he told all of the outfielders to come in. He said, “Sit down.” Then he told the infielders to sit down. There wasn't anybody but he and the catcher, and the bases were loaded.

The first guy came to bat, and Satchel threw him three pitches. Second guy, three pitches. Third guy, three pitches, and that was it. Inning over.

Satchel did that.

What do you think of the current state of baseball?
The ballplayers today aren't role models for kids. Look at steroids. Look at all the money. We didn't have that. We played for the love of the game.

My salary was $300 a month, and I raised five boys and one girl with it. But today, baseball is about politics and money.

It's sad when I see it, because today's baseball isn't the type we played. We hustled. We didn't go home when we got hurt, and there wasn't a disabled list.

I played ball with a broken finger and hit a home run with it. My manager said, “Get hurt again, because you're doing the same thing tomorrow night.” 

Nickname

Miles' nickname came from his manager "Candy" Jim Taylor, who commented that he "hits as hard as a mule kicks." Mule also played first base and went on to play minor league baseball in Texas with Laredo and San Antonio before retiring in 1952.

John "the Mule" Miles played 1946 to 1948 for the Chicago American Giants. As an outfielder, Miles once hit 11 homeruns in 11 games in 1947, which not only would have shattered the Major League record for consecutive games, but would still be the record.

SOURCE: NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION

Negro Leagues Baseball Related Websites

Book for Young Readers

Beginnings

The first successful organized Negro League was established on February 13, 1920, at a YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri. Andrew "Rube" Foster was the driving force behind the organization of this league and served as its president.

Books in the Library

Playing in a Shadow

"Smokey" Joe Williams

Smokey Joe Williams stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 200 pounds.

He threw so hard and so fast, he earned the nicknames "Cyclone" and "Strikeout." Finally, as legend has it, after Williams struck out 20 white New York Giants in a 1914 exhibition game, one of those Giants players patted Williams on the rear end and said: "Nice job, Smokey."

Since that head-turning day, Smokey Joe Williams blasted into baseball's living lore, even if Major League Baseball's color ban kept him out of its leagues. In that grand year of 1914, records show Williams compiled a 41-3 mark.

Hall of Famer Ty Cobb considered him to be a "sure 30-game winner" had he been able to pitch in the major leagues. Records show Williams outdueled the great Walter Johnson twice, some say more, as well as Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Williams reeled off a 20-7 record in exhibitions against white major-league competition.

"Imagine the major leagues without Ken Griffey Jr., and so on and so on and so on," said author John Holway, who has written several books about the Negro Leagues, including `Blackball Stars', which dedicates a chapter to Williams' career.

Most of Williams' pitching statistics are difficult to verify because Negro Leagues statistics are incomplete. Much of the rest of his life also lacks documentation.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has been unable to find any living relatives. Hall officials are still uncertain who will represent him at the induction ceremony.

Williams is believed to have been born on April 6, 1886, in Seguin, a small town along Interstate 10 about 50 miles east of San Antonio. After a long and winding baseball career in which he played for 10 Negro Leagues teams, mostly on the East Coast, it is believed Williams worked as a bartender in New York City after his baseball career ended.

The most often listed date of death is March 12, 1946, but Holway says research in recent years indicates he likely did not die until 1952 or later. His baseball tour of duty, which lasted from 1905-32, looked like a who's who of Negro Leagues baseball, not uncommon to many of the black stars of that day: San Antonio Black Bronchos, Chicago Leland Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays and the Detroit Wolves.

Williams is primarily remembered for his performances for the New York Lincoln Giants (1911-1923) and Homestead Grays (1925-1932). And like Ryan, Williams could still throw the heater late in his career. On Aug. 2, 1930, as a 44-year-old pitcher for the Grays, he struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs and threw a one-hitter in a 12-inning game.

Such monstrous outings prompted Satchel Paige, widely considered to be the greatest Negro Leagues pitcher, to laud Williams as the greatest pitcher he had ever seen. Had Williams been white, he might have been teammates with Walter Johnson or even the Babe. He might have challenged Johnson as the strikeout king of their generation.

"I often wonder," Holway said, "if Babe could have hit 60 home runs if he had to face some of the better black pitchers."

At least now, Williams will finally join Johnson and Ruth in his rightful place, in the Hall of Fame.

Positions played: pitcher, outfield, first base

Teams: San Antonio Black Bronchos, Chicago Leland Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Chicago American Giants, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays, Detroit Wolves

SOURCE: NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION