‘The Mule’ Gets His Day In Seattle

By Geoff Baker
Updated: July 3, 2008

SEATTLE — This was one Mariners draft pick from last month who could have truly helped this year’s squad.

John “Mule” Miles, an excellent outfielder and first baseman, once hit home runs in 11 consecutive games as a professional ballplayer, a mark that would be a major-league record. Alas, the Mariners drafted him about six decades too late.

The best they could get out of the former power hitter, who played with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro leagues from 1946 to 1949, was to get him to throw out the first pitch of Wednesday night’s game at Safeco Field.

And Miles was fine with that, thrilled about the Mariners picking him in an honorary Major League Baseball draft of Negro leagues players last month and saying he harbors no ill will toward the game for attitudes that likely cost him a major-league career.

“It was great, I loved it and I have no animosity at all about the money they’re making today,” he said of major-league players. “Because I didn’t make that kind of money. And my grandpa always told me: ‘Son, you never miss what you never have. Don’t forget that.’ “

Miles, 83, was given the “Mule” nickname by Chicago manager Jim “Candy” Taylor, who told him he “hit the ball as hard as a mule.” He earned $300 per month, and said he played for the love of the game.

“Look at what A-Rod’s making and I was making $300 a month,” Miles said with a chuckle. “And I’ve got $2 to eat on. But look, with that $2, I could get a bottle of pop for a nickel. I could get a hamburger for a nickel. I’d get a big bottle of Hippo with two straws, one for me and one for my girlfriend.”

Miles had some fun times in the Negro leagues, hitting 70 home runs in his four seasons with Chicago. The home-run streak came in 1947, but barely garnered him any serious attention.

“Not that much,” he said. “Where was it going? Into a local paper, that’s it.”

Things would be a little different today, he agreed, with ESPN around to chronicle such streaks minute-by-minute.

“Oh my goodness,” he said. “There would be all kinds of publicity.”

Miles played against other Negro leaguers whose feats went unnoticed.

His two favorite players were Josh Gibson, who use to say he’d clubbed “almost 800″ homers for the Homestead Grays, and pitcher Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs. Miles actually got to face Paige, who played five seasons for the Indians and St. Louis Browns, starting at age 42 after the color barrier fell.

Paige landed two quick strikes.

“The bat never left my shoulder,” Miles said.

Miles added that he threw his bat down and walked to the dugout. When his manager asked him why he’d done that with only two strikes on him, Miles claims he replied that he’d never even seen the first two pitches and someone else should get a chance to hit.

Getting a big-league chance wasn’t in the cards for Miles. He’d hoped to be the first black chosen to play in the majors, playing in front of some scouts in 1947, but Jackie Robinson got the call.

Miles instead became the first black player in the Gulf Coast League with the Laredo Apaches in 1951. He was taunted nightly with racist epithets by opposing fans.

Once, when a restaurant manager wouldn’t serve him, the rest of the team — all white players — walked out. The manager pleaded with the team to return and allowed Miles back in. But he had to eat in the kitchen.

On Wednesday, he was introduced to Toronto manager Cito Gaston before the game. Gaston is the first black manager to win a World Series and hails from Miles’ hometown of San Antonio.

“Man, I’m seeing black and white playing together, which I didn’t think was ever going to happen,” Miles said. “And I thank the Lord above he’s letting me see this.”

NOTE: For more Mule Miles’ homer streak, logo on to http://www.blackathlete.net/artman/publish/article_02172.shtml