COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – One-hundred and ten years ago, the game of baseball was on the cusp of what is now known as the modern era.
But the evolution of baseball into the true National Pastime – when all men had the chance to play the game – didn’t happen for another four decades. And it was the men born a century ago – like future Hall of Famer George “Mule” Suttles – who helped make that possible.Suttles was born March 31, 1900, in Blocton, Ala., arriving on the baseball scene just as the Negro National League was asserting itself as a thriving business. From 1923 through 1944, Suttles was one of the most feared sluggers in the Negro leagues.A right-handed hitting first baseman, Suttles starred for a number of teams, including the Birmingham Black Barons, the St. Louis Stars, the Chicago American Giants and the Newark Eagles. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Suttles played in five East-West All-Star Games, and carved his name into history in the 1935 contest when he hit a game-winning three-run home run off of another future Hall of Famer, Martin Dihigo.Statistics from those years are incomplete, but Suttles is credited with 894 hits in 763 career league-sanctioned games, good for a .327 batting average. The high-caliber play of Suttles and others helped establish the ability of African-American players to compete at the highest level – opening the door for the eventual integration of the major leagues by Jackie Robinson in 1947.Suttles died on July 9, 1966, in Newark, N.J. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum