By Tony McClean, BASN Editor In Chief
Updated: July 31, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Ct. (BASN) — In 1956, Pittsburgh Pirate first baseman Dale Long put his name in the major league record books by hitting eight home runs in eight consecutive games between May 19 and May 28.
Since then, the mark set by Long has been matched by two American Leaguers. Current New York Yankee hitting coach Don Mattingly pulled off the feat in 1987 from July 8 through 18th.
Six seasons later while playing with the Seattle Mariners, Ken Griffey tied the mark as well. The current Cincinnati Reds outfielder performed the feat from July 20 to July 28 of 1993.
However nearly a decade before Long recorded his feat, John “Mule” Miles had already established a professional baseball record with 11 homers in 11 consecutive games while playing for the Chicago American Giants.
Over the years, many baseball historians have tried to discredit the record set by the Texas native. Miles would set his historic mark in 1948 — a season after former Negro Leaguers Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the major leagues color barrier.
Born in San Antonio, Miles played both baseball and basketball in his formative years. When he finished high school, Miles was trained as aircraft mechanic during World War II.
The tall Texan worked on airplanes that would later be used by the famous all-black squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen. Nicknamed “Sonny Boy”, Miles was more of a basketball standout in his younger years.
However, it was his baseball prowess that got him noticed by several Negro League scouts. While playing for an all-black sandlot team in 1947, Miles was signed by the Chicago American Giants.
Described by many as an outfielder with good range and a strong arm, Miles didn’t hit for a high average, but what he did have was raw power. Something that didn’t go unnoticed by the Giants’ legendary manager, “Candy” Jim Taylor.
In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, Miles said he received a lot of guidance from his manager. “He (Taylor) said just put your eye on the ball, and I was really seeing it”, Miles added. “Once he said that to me, everything else became very wonderful.”
Taylor nicknamed Miles “Mule” because he “hit as hard as a mule kicks”. It was a similar nickname of another Negro League slugger from the early 30′s, George “Mule” Suttles of the St. Louis Stars.
In 1948, Miles would have his most productive season in the Negro Leagues. Hitting .250, Miles slugged 27 homers with the majority of them coming during his incredible streak.
“When he (Miles) got one up in the air, it really flew,” said Johnny Washington, a teammate of Miles in Chicago. “He was tall and wiry, with those long arms and big, strong wrists.”
“John was a people kind of guy, talking all the time,” Washington added. “He would get a hit and razz the pitcher or the fielders. That was the way we played in the Negro Leagues.”
Later in his career, Miles would become somewhat of a pioneer in minor league baseball. After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the Majors, Miles became the first black player in the South Texas League.
He would then go on to play minor league baseball for the Laredo Apaches in the Gulf Coast League.
At the end of his playing career, Miles would run several semi-pro teams in San Antonio for many years, including The Miles Oilers. He also worked as a sheet-metal mechanic at Kelly Field, the park where he was discovered as a youth.
His contributions to sports on and off the field would not go unnoticed. Miles was inducted into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. He was also inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame three years later.
Now at age 87, Miles frequently speaks to youngsters and travels to autograph shows around the country. Like many of his fellow ex-Negro Leaguers, Miles helps to raise money for former Negro Leagues players without pensions.
He looks back fondly on his playing days. “I didn’t hit for percentage, I hit for distance,” Miles added. “Boy, when you bust it over that fence, they liked that.”
Although his playing career was brief, John “Mule” Miles has carved out a significant niche in the overall history of baseball.
NOTE: The Biographical Encyclopedia of The Negro Baseball Leagues, The Negro League Baseball Players Association, The San Antonio Express-News, and The Daily Texan all contributed to this article.