Mule Suttles (Trading Card DB)

April 28, 1924: Birmingham Black Barons make Negro National League debut with win over Cuban Stars

This article was written by Donna L. Halper

Mule Suttles (Trading Card DB)In 1923, the Birmingham Black Barons were dominating the Negro Southern League;1 in May, their record was 16-2 and their pitchers had thrown 68 consecutive scoreless innings.2 But by July, the league’s financial woes, along with a lack of competition, convinced Black Barons owner Joe Rush to apply for admission into the Negro National League. His efforts were successful: In December, his team was officially accepted into the NNL, which had completed its fourth season.3 Rush believed the Black Barons were more than ready; he predicted that they would “hold their own with any team in the league.”4

Birmingham was the only Southern city with a new NNL franchise,5 and Rush was determined for the Black Barons to make a good impression. A Birmingham businessman, he co-owned the Rush Hotel, located on North 18th Street in the city’s Black neighborhood. Managed by his wife, Dollie,6 the hotel was becoming a home away from home for Black travelers, entertainers, and ballplayers. “Uncle Joe” was a memorable character, known for his Stetson hat and his dog, Fido, who accompanied him almost everywhere.7 He was also known for speaking his mind: While he didn’t hesitate to spend “quite a sum of money” to sign the best players,8 he said that if those players didn’t perform up to expectations, they would be replaced.9 He also spent money to hire Sam Crawford, formerly of the NNL champion Kansas City Monarchs. Crawford was frequently praised, even in the White-owned press, as “one of the best negro managers in the country.”10    

The 1924 NNL season opened on Monday, April 28, and the game between the Black Barons and the Cuban Stars was a highly anticipated event. Although Birmingham was a segregated city, Black baseball was popular with White patrons; the games received regular coverage in the city’s White-owned newspapers. In preparation for Opening Day, an entire section of the grandstand at Rickwood Field was set aside for the White fans (with a Whites-only ticket booth for them as well). Meanwhile, in Birmingham’s Black community, store managers announced they were closing at noon so that any employee who wanted to attend the 3 P.M. game could do so.11 

The Black Barons had retained some key players from 1923, including catcher Poindexter Williams, who had missed the season with a broken leg but was now healthy,12 and their starting infield of Felton Stratton at third base, Charlie Wesley at second, Buford “Geechie” Meredith at shortstop, and George McAllister at first. Among the new additions were pitchers Sam Streeter (formerly with the Lincoln Giants) and Bill McCall (from Cleveland’s Tate Stars), and outfielder James “Sandy” Thompson (from the Milwaukee Bears).

Their opponents, the Cuban Stars were owned by Abel Linares, and managed by Agustín “Tinti” Molina, who had been a player and then a manager for Linares in the 1910s.13 The Stars were an experienced team, and most of their players from 1923 were back. Among them were catcher Eufemio Abreu, outfielder Esteban Montalvo, second baseman Felipe Sierra, and third baseman Matías Ríos (often misspelled as ‘Riol’ in box scores). The Stars had been competing in winter ball in Havana, and the team had only recently arrived by boat, to first play in New Orleans and then move on to Birmingham.

The Stars arrived on a perfect day for baseball. The weather was cloudy and warm, and a brass band opened the festivities as more than 10,000 enthusiastic fans packed into Rickwood Field. It was a much larger crowd than the White Birmingham Barons of the minor-league Southern Association had gotten for their Opening Day game.14 Black Barons lefty Sam Streeter got off to a shaky start in the first, but the Stars failed to capitalize, due to poor baserunning. After Marcelino Guerra doubled and Felipe Sierra walked, catcher Williams picked Guerra off second. Valentín Dreke doubled and Esteban Montalvo flied out, but Sierra, who was trying to score, neglected to tag up, and Fred Daniels, normally a pitcher but today playing in right field, quickly threw the ball to third for a double play.15

The Cubans broke through in the top of the third, getting two runs. One local newspaper indicated the runs scored on an infield hit by starting pitcher Lucas Boada, followed by a single to left by Sierra. When Dreke singled to right, Boada scored. Guerra came home on an error by Williams, who tried to pick him off third but threw wildly.16 Another newspaper reported that Guerra doubled and Sierra beat out an infield hit. But pitcher Streeter picked Sierra off first; then Dreke’s double drove in Guerra. Dreke came home on Montalvo’s long fly ball to deep left.17   

The Black Barons answered with five runs in the bottom of the third. Both Daniels and Streeter got on base with infield hits, and after Wesley popped out, McAllister’s single loaded the bases. Geechie Meredith beat out another infield hit, scoring Daniels. George “Mule” Suttles, Birmingham’s 23-year-old left fielder and cleanup hitter,18 forced Meredith at second, but Streeter scored the second run.

Sandy Thompson hit a single over second base, scoring McAllister and Suttles. Thompson scored the inning’s fifth run on an error, reported in one newspaper as occurring when right fielder Montalvo dropped Williams’s fly ball,19 and in the other newspaper as an infield error.20

Cuban Stars’ starting pitcher Boada lasted only 2⅔ innings before being replaced by the veteran Eustaquio “Bombín” Pedroso. (The game summaries and box scores misspelled the names of many of the Cuban players. In addition to Ríos, Boada was listed as either Roada or Roado, and Pedroso, who relieved him, was incorrectly referred to as Predosa or Predroso.)

Pedroso was in the final years of a long and impressive career in Cuban baseball.21 Normally a starter, he was still regarded as one of the aces of the Stars’ pitching staff. In long relief, he allowed the Black Barons only one unearned run, in the fifth inning. As for Streeter, who pitched a complete game, he allowed the Stars a run in the seventh; there was no further scoring by either team. Streeter scattered nine hits, walked only one, and struck out six. He went on to become the ace of the Black Barons’ staff in 1924, with a 14-6 record and a 3.05 ERA. Meanwhile, Suttles would be one of the few bright spots in the Black Barons’ offense, leading the team in hitting with a .318 batting average, and posting a team-leading 49 RBIs in 79 games.

Birmingham’s baseball writers were impressed by what they saw on Opening Day. They praised Black Barons manager Crawford for how well the team played, saying the players showed hustle and “polish” in the 6-3 win.22

But then, after the Black Barons swept their first three games,  owner Rush announced he had fired Crawford. The move mystified the writers, who credited Crawford with the team’s “brilliant performance” against the Cuban Stars, and said he had “worked miracles” thus far, correcting the weaknesses the players had previously shown and transforming the Black Barons into a “formidable” team.23 Crawford believed that Rush often second-guessed him and did not back the decisions he made.24 But Rush told reporters he disagreed with Crawford’s management philosophy: he thought Crawford was favoring the veterans too much and not giving the younger players a chance.25

The sportswriters were not convinced. They wondered why Rush would suddenly fire one of the top managers in Black baseball, and they worried about how losing him would affect the rest of the season. As it turned out, Crawford’s version of events may have been accurate: In late June, Rush hired veteran Dizzy Dismukes to manage the team, but by mid-August, Dismukes left, citing a disagreement with Rush as the cause.26 And while there was no way to predict how the team might have done if Crawford had been allowed to stay, by the time of Dismukes’ departure, the Black Barons were in sixth place in the standings, with a 26-32 record.27



The author is grateful to John Fredland, Kurt Blumenau, and Gary Belleville for their helpful suggestions. The author is also grateful to the local history department of the Birmingham (Alabama) Public Library for information about Black Birmingham in the 1920s.

This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted,,, and for pertinent information.



1 “Negro Southern League Planned,” Birmingham News, April 1, 1923: S-2. Major League Baseball’s December 2020 recognition of certain Negro Leagues as “major” included the 1920-1931 Negro National League on its list of major leagues, but not the Negro Southern League of the 1920s. This is consistent with how the Negro National League and Negro Southern League were regarded in 1924. “MLB Officially Designates the Negro Leagues as ‘Major League,’”, December 16, 2020,

2 William J. Plott, The Negro Southern League, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2015), 45-46.

3 “Baseball Magnates Gather,” Kansas City Sun, December 15, 1923: 6.

4 “Monarchs Champions of the League,” Kansas City Sun, September 29, 1923: 8.

5 Zipp Newman, “Dusting ’Em Off,” Birmingham News, February 10, 1924: S-6.

6 “The Rush Hotel Has Been Remodeled and Is a Place of Comfort,” Birmingham Reporter, October 13, 1923: 5.

7 “Birmingham and AM. Giants Here Sunday,” Chicago Defender, July 19, 1924: 8.

8 “Black Barons Get Ready to Report,” Birmingham News, March 9, 1924: S-4.

9 “Black Barons Open Season on April 28,” Birmingham News, April 6, 1924: S-2.

10 “Joe Rush Purchases Milwaukee Franchise,” Birmingham News, January 6, 1924: S-3.

11 “Black Barons to Begin Play Against Stars,” Birmingham News, April 24, 1924: 20.

12 “Negro National League Season Opens April 28,” Chicago Defender, April 5, 1924: 10.

13 Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, The Pride of Havana : A History of Cuban Baseball (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 140. There were actually two rival teams using name Cuban Stars. In addition to Linares’ team, the other was owned by his longtime rival Alex Pompez, a Cuban-American businessman who scouted some of the era’s best Latino players. But Pompez had another source of revenue in addition to his baseball team; he also ran a lucrative (but illegal) sports betting operation in Harlem. The best-known player on his version of the Cuban Stars was Martin Dihigo.

14 “Birmingham Takes Opener from Cubans,” Chicago Defender, May 10, 1924: 9.

15 “Record Crowd Sees Rushmen Annex Opener,” Birmingham News, April 29, 1924: 16.

16 “Record Crowd Sees Rushmen Annex Opener.”

17 “Black Barons Open With Win,” Birmingham Age-Herald, April 29, 1924: 11.

18 Suttles was often misidentified as “Sellers” in game summaries. In the 1920s and 1930s, he emerged as one of the most prominent power hitters in the Negro Leagues. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. Stephen V. Rice, “Mule Suttles,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, accessed January 3, 2024,

19 “Record Crowd Sees Rushmen Annex Opener,” Birmingham News, April 29, 1924: 16.

20 “Black Barons Open With Win.”

21 The Pride of Havana : A History of Cuban Baseball, 136.

22 “Black Barons Open With Win.”

23 “Cuban Stars to Open on Monday,” Birmingham Age-Herald, May 4, 1924: S-5.

24 “Record Crowd Sees Rushmen Annex Opener,” Birmingham News, April 29, 1924: 16.

25 “Crawford Not Managing Black Barons,” Kansas City Sun, May 17, 1924: 3.

26 “Dismukes Leaves Black Barons,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 23, 1924: 12.

27 “Monarchs Increase Lead in National Negro League,” California Eagle (Los Angeles), August 22, 1924: 9.

Additional Stats

Birmingham Black Barons 6
Cuban Stars 3

Rickwood Field
Birmingham, AL

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