Oct. 15 is the birthday of both Mule Haas (1903) and Mule Watson (1896). While there hasn’t been a “Mule” in the majors in some time, the nickname has an admirable history.
A mule, for those people not biologically inclined, is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. And while the biologically inclined would tell you that exceptions do exist, a mule is notable for the fact that it is sterile. This is appropriate given the history of those players dubbed “Mule” in baseball history; most were indeed barren. But there was a significant exception.
Before we get to the exception, it is important to cover the more ordinary types. While some players sometimes were called “Mule”—including Frank Lary, better known as “The Yankee Killer”—only a handful were know primarily by that nickname.
The earliest was Mule Watson. He was a pitcher during the teens and ’20s, throwing nearly a thousand innings over the course of a seven-year career. The best year of his career came in 1923, when he threw 130.2 innings for the Boston Braves and New York Giants, pitching the majority of that time for the Giants. It was Watson’s only season with an ERA better than the league average.
His performance was good enough to earn a spot on the World Series roster for the Giants, a feat he would repeat in 1924. Watson was terrible in the ’23 World Series, giving up three runs in two innings after starting Game 1, his only appearance of the series as the Giants lost in six games. In 1924, Watson earned a save in Game 3, but once again the Giants were defeated.
For the bulk of his career, Watson was a below-average starter, albeit one who could sometimes eat innings. Watson was eighth in the league in innings in 1921, but unfortunately also scattered around the top 10 in numbers like hit batsmen, hits allowed and earned runs. For his career, his 4.03 ERA and 50-53 record is a fairly accurate representation of his quality.
The next player began what might be termed the Golden Age of Mule: Two Mules were in the league in both 1924 and 1925. In 1924, Mule Shirley entered the majors, joining Watson. Shirley was a first baseman, but lacked the hitting ability ordinary associated with that position. In his career—which lasted only two years and 111 plate appearances—he had just five extra base hits, and no home runs.
In 1924, he at least hit enough to make the World Series for the Senators—though he did not face Mule Watson—but in 1925 he hit a gruesome .130 in 14 games and never appeared in the majors again.
Shirley’s limited action in 1925 did allow him to overlap with the Mule who had the longest and most successful major league tenure, Mule Haas. Haas had a 12-year career, including two above-average seasons. He was a regular for three pennant-winning teams, including World Series winners in 1929 and 1930.
The truly noteworthy Mule in baseball history, however, never played in the majors. That was Mule Suttles. Suttles was born in 1900 in Alabama, and despite being one of the best first baseman of his time he was excluded from the majors because he was black.
Suttles was famed for carrying a 50-ounce bat, and hit for such power that fans would shout “Kick Mule!” when he came to the plate. While hardly making up for the injustice of his ban from the majors, Suttles’ posthumous Hall of Fame induction in 2006 at least helped to draw attention to his feats.
Suttles is credited on his plaque with being among the all-time Negro League leaders in doubles, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. Suttles’ most famous accomplishment came in the 1935 East-West All-Star game, when he slugged an 11th-inning home run to win the game for his side.
Finally, no discussion of baseball mules would be complete without discussing Charlie-O. Named for then A’s owner Charles O. Finley, the mule was given to Finley as a gift when the team moved to Kansas City. (The mule is Missouri’s official state animal.) Finley was quite a fan of his eponymous creature, traveling with it around the country, announcing he intended to ride it around the bases at Dodger Stadium and supposedly bringing it into the press box after feedings to annoy the media.
When not being used by Finley for one stunt or another, Charlie-O resided in a small zoo behind the right field fence at Municipal Stadium. The zoo also housed sheep, goats and Warpaint, the mascot for the Kansas City Chiefs. (The Chiefs shared the park with the A’s once they moved to the city in 1962.) When Finley moved the A’s to Oakland, he declared that Charlie-O had been a gift and he was taking the animal with him.
Charlie-O died in 1976, which coincided with the end of the A’s dominance of the American League. Finley sold the team a few years later and new owner Walter Haas Jr. declared that the mule would no longer be a symbol of the A’s, instead restoring the elephant to team prominence, a legacy that continues with the A’s today. It is worth pointing out, however, that while Charlie-O might have been a real mule, I’m pretty sure Stomper is not quite as authentic an elephant.
Leaving out those mules of the actual variety, it is true that like most mules, those in baseball history were without much in the way of potency, except Mule Suttles. While he might never have had the chance to ply his trade in the major leagues, his Hall of Fame status is a tribute to his abilities. Being the greatest Mule in baseball history is not quite the same level of accomplishment, but it nonetheless another honor Mule Suttles has to his name.