January 5, 2003

Originally appeared at http://news.mysanantonio.com - reprinted with permissionNegro Leagues star had an amazing streak of home runs in 1948
By David King San Antonio Express-News, 01/05/2003 12:00 AM

Many of the details of John Miles' famous streak — 11 home runs in 11 straight games — are part of the vapor of Negro Leagues history.

But that doesn't make the native San Antonian's feat in 1948 any less impressive.

"You can take the greatest home-run hitters in baseball history — Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds — and, even in their greatest years, they never came close to that streak," said Negro Leagues historian Dean Lollis.

The longest streak in "organized" baseball is eight home runs in eight games, co-owned by Don Mattingly and Dale Long.

"I was just hitting the ball real good," said Miles, who is the elder statesman of the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame class of 2003, which will be inducted Feb. 7 at the Alamodome.

"My manager (Negro Leagues legend 'Candy' Jim Taylor) said just put your eye on the ball, and I was really seeing it. It was just wonderful."

Miles can't recall the exact locations of the shots, but they all were legitimate. His team, the Chicago American Giants, played almost all its games in major league ballparks, from Chicago's Comiskey Field to the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium in New York.

"We'd play at Comiskey Field and draw better than the White Sox," said Johnny Washington, a teammate of Miles on the American Giants. "The White Sox would draw 5,000 to 8,000, and on Sundays, we'd have 35,000 to 40,000 people, white and black."

Washington, who joined the club during the 1948 season, said he could tell Miles was a powerful hitter right away.

"When he got one up in the air, it really flew," he said. "He was tall and wiry, with those long arms and big, strong wrists."

Then — as now — Miles also was popular and outgoing, Washington said.

"John was a people kind of guy, talking all the time," he said. "He would get a hit and razz the pitcher or the fielders. That was the way we played in the Negro Leagues."

Another way of life in the Negro Leagues was the travel. The teams went almost everywhere on buses — Miles admits he even drove the bus on more than one occasion — and the players used it as a place to eat, sleep and change into their uniforms.

Aside from the streak, Miles' favorite memory about his two seasons in the Negro Leagues was the day in New Haven, Conn., when he hit a solo home run to break up a scoreless game between the American Giants and a team of white players, many of them big-leaguers.

"It was 0-0 all day, and guys kept striking out, striking out, striking out," said Miles, who for all his power was known as a hitter who didn't strike out much. "Finally, one guy didn't miss — and I hit it over the fence."

Washington, who still lives in the Chicago area and sees Miles at Negro Leagues reunions and card shows, said his favorite memory of the hitter Taylor nicknamed "Mule" because he "hit as hard as a mule kicks" came in an exhibition game as well.

"We played an 11-inning game in Greenville, Miss., and he hit three home runs," Washington said. "And he hit all of them very, very hard."

John 'Mule' Miles hit home runs in 11 straight games in 1948 while playing in the Negro Leagues. He is a member of the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame class of 2003.
Photo: Bahram Mark Sobhani/Express-News

John Miles file

Age: 80

Hometown: San Antonio

Nicknames: Dubbed "Sonny Boy" in San Antonio and "Mule" while in Negro Leagues

In baseball: Was spotted playing for black team at Kelly Field and signed contract with Chicago American Giants of Negro American League in 1948 ... Played two years in Negro Leagues, then was first African-American player in South Texas League, playing for Laredo Apaches ... Ran semi-pro teams in San Antonio for many years, including Miles Oilers

His shot: Had tryout for white San Antonio Missions in 1940s, but was not signed by St. Louis Browns' farm club

On the job: Was trained as aircraft mechanic during World War II, working on planes for all-black squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen ... Worked at Kelly Field as sheet-metal mechanic

Currently: Travels to autograph shows around country, helping to raise money for former Negro Leagues players without pensions. ... Still plays golf regularly