In an age when nicknames were commonplace in baseball, George William Haas had one of the best.
Known as Mule, the Montclair native was an above-average batsman and outfielder for thirteen years in the major leagues. But for one sweet week in the early autumn exactly 80 years ago, Haas was baseball’s biggest hero.
The setting was the 1929 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Athletics. Haas was the speedy centerfielder for the A’s, a powerful team that dethroned Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s Yankees from the top of the American League. His teammates included four of baseball’s all-time greats: Al Simmons, Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove—all future Hall of Famers. Another star was the pitcher George Earnshaw, who also hailed from Montclair.
“My father was convinced they were the best team in baseball,” says George William Haas Jr., the outfielder’s 85-year-old son, who has long resided in LaPlace, Louisiana, near New Orleans. Contacted by New Jersey Monthly, George Jr. recalled his father’s life in and out of baseball.
The elder Haas was born October 15, 1903, the son of a plumber who once tried out as a pitcher for the New York Giants. Mule starred in baseball at Montclair High School and went on to play semi-pro baseball in Montclair for a team called the Clairmonts. There was never any doubt that baseball would be his trade. “He had his mind made up,” says George Jr.
In those days, Haas was called by an earlier nickname, Eggs, though no one seems to remember why. His skills (“he could run like a deer,” says his son) caught the eyes of major-league scouts, and he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Haas played briefly for the Pirates in 1925, then kicked around the minor leagues for several seasons.
It was while playing in the minors that Haas earned his lasting appellation, although the exact source is open to debate. One account traces it to his “sad eyes and long, tapered face.” Another (less kind) cites his large ears. Some reports say a sportswriter in Birmingham, Alabama, coined the nickname after Haas, too stubborn to let his team lose, hit a game-winning, ninth-inning home run. Others credit a sportswriter in Atlanta who proclaimed that Haas would “put kick in our ballclub.”
Did the name suit him? “Oh, he could be a little stubborn once in a while,” says George Jr.
Haas was relieved of his minor-league exile in 1928, when the Athletics’ legendary owner-manager Connie Mack purchased his contract from the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association for $10,000. Haas quickly emerged as a top-flight base runner and outfielder (“an automated fly-catching machine,” said teammate Jimmy Dykes). Well-schooled in the fundamentals, he would lead the American League in sacrifice bunts six times.
The 1929 season was a special one for Haas. He smacked 41 doubles, nine triples, and sixteen home runs—all career highs—and batted a healthy .313. But that was just a prelude to the World Series.
Haas’s Athletics won two of the first three games of the series, but the Cubs grabbed the momentum in Game 4, taking an early 8-0 lead. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the A’s started to battle back. They already had tallied four runs in the inning, making the score 8-4, when Haas came to bat with two runners on base.
Swinging at the first pitch, he lashed a line drive to centerfield. The Cubs’ Hack Wilson charged in, only to be blinded by the late-afternoon sun. Wilson reached for the ball, but it zipped past his outstretched glove. As the ball rolled to the fence, Haas sped around the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park home run. That brought the Philadelphia team to within one run of the Cubs. The A’s went on to win the game 10-8 and took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The next day—Sunday, October 13—was an off day. (Blue laws prohibited Sunday baseball in Philadelphia.) Game 5 had to wait for Monday, October 14, the day before Haas’s 26th birthday. The crowd of more than 30,000 at Philly’s old Shibe Park that day included President Herbert Hoover (who endured chants of “we want beer” from thirsty Prohibition-era fans). Even more fans paid for makeshift seating on the tenement rooftops of North 20th Street, just beyond the right-field wall.
The Cubs, fighting for survival, jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in Game 5. That held up until the bottom of the ninth. There was one out, and many in the crowd already were heading for the exits, when the A’s got a runner to first. Up came that stubborn Mule. Once again, Haas swung at the first pitch. The crowd froze with the crack of the bat. The ball soared into the autumn air, flying over the right-field fence and into the mob on North 20th Street. It was Haas’s second home run of the series.
As Haas crossed home plate with the game-tying run, the mayor of Philadelphia abandoned his place next to President Hoover and leaped onto the field to give the centerfielder a congratulatory hug. Later that inning, the A’s tacked on the winning run that sewed up the championship.
“If that had happened 50 years later, he’d have been the MVP of the series,” says George Jr.
Such honors were not bequeathed in 1929, but Haas did get something he probably appreciated even more. According to sportswriter David Cataneo’s book Peanuts and Crackerjack (Rutledge, 1991), the winning share for each member of the A’s was $5,620.57. Presented with his winnings, Haas reportedly said: “I’m going back to Montclair and paint the town red.”
George Jr. was only 5 at the time, but as he recalls, Montclair threw a party in Nishuane Park when Mule came home, presenting its favorite son with a radio. The Knights of Columbus pitched in a dinner saluting Haas, where the Rev. John L. McNulty referred to the local hero as “the finest and cleanest-living youth in Montclair.” That was October 25, 1929. Four days later the stock market crashed. Haas settled into his off-season routine, probably driving an oil truck that winter.
Haas played in the majors until 1939 (going to the World Series with the A’s again in 1930 and 1931) and hung around for another decade as a coach and minor-league manager. An expert at razzing opponents from his seat in the dugout, Haas is widely credited with instigating a memorable brawl in 1946 between the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox, which resulted in the ejection of fourteen players.
Leaving professional baseball, Haas moved to Avon-by-the-Sea, and throughout the 1950s served as athletic director at Fort Monmouth and coach of the army baseball and basketball teams. Among his players was a young pitcher with a pretty good nickname of his own, Edward Charles “Whitey” Ford.
Later, Haas entered a new career as a pari-mutuel clerk for the state, working the betting windows at Monmouth Park and other tracks. His great niece, Cindy Haas Hickey, fondly recalls secretly placing bets with Haas, though she was underage.
Although his name had faded from the headlines, New Jersey did not forget about Haas, and in 1967 he was named to the now-defunct New Jersey All-Sports Hall of Fame. In 1974, while driving to New Orleans to visit George Jr. and family, Haas suffered a minor stroke. He finished the trip, but two days after reaching his son’s home, Haas collapsed with a second, more serious stroke. He died several months later in New Orleans. His body was laid to rest at Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Montclair.
Now, 80 years after that glorious fall in Philadelphia, George Jr. reflects on his father’s heroics: “It was the biggest thrill he ever had.”