A little-known player becoming a beloved contributor for the Boston Red Sox is personified by Bill Mueller.
Mueller, a switch-hitting third baseman, is a native of Missouri. He attended Southwest Missouri State and graduated as perhaps their best player of all time, leaving as the school leader in hits, runs and stolen bases among a number of categories. He played both third and shortstop during his tenure and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2004.
As a college senior in 1993, Mueller hit .371 with 11 home runs, earning his conference’s Player of the Year Award, and was also named team MVP. His performance led to him being taken in the 15th round by the San Francisco Giants in that year’s draft.
Mueller was a career .306 hitter in the minors but showed very little power. However, he was brought up to the Giants in 1996, and hit .330 in 55 games.
The impressive debut of Mueller was enough to earn him the Giants’ starting third base job in 1997 and he held on to it through the 2000 season, as a solid, but spectacular player.
Mueller was traded to the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2001 season, but was traded back to the Giants towards the end of 2002. By that time he had regressed to a platoon player, who played decent defense, but was mostly a singles hitter at the plate.
Granted free agency, Mueller signed with the Red Sox before the 2003 season; a move that changed his career forever.
Coming into 2003, the Red Sox were at the height of their rivalry with the New York Yankees. They were putting contending teams on the field, but couldn’t break through to the World Series. GM Theo Epstein began bringing in good clubhouse guys like Mueller, Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar in what would prove to be a master stroke.
Mueller had the best season of his career in 2003, winning the AL batting title with a .326 mark, while hitting 19 home runs and driving in 95 runs. Unfortunately, Boston’s season came to an excruciating end in the ALCS when the New York Yankees knocked them out of the playoffs on Aaron Boone’s dramatic walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield.
Mueller struggled with injuries in 2004, appearing in just 110 games. However, he did hit .283 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI. The regular season was simply a prelude to a magical post season, which saw the Red Sox win their first World Series title since 1918 in improbable fashion. Mueller was part of the glory, hitting .321 during the postseason, and participating in some of the most memorable moments in October.
With age and injuries catching up to him, Mueller played one more season in Boston before finishing his playing career with 32 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006. In an 11-year major league career, he hit .291 with 85 home runs and 493 RBI. More information about his career statistics is available at BaseballReference.com.
Despite such modest numbers, Mueller will always be remembered fondly for his gritty play and for the role he played in helping bring a World Series trophy to Boston for the first time in decades.
These days, Mueller is still involved in baseball, working as an assistant to Dodgers’ general manage Ned Colletti through last season. He has since become a fulltime scout. He seems to be one of those guys who just has baseball in his blood and will be around the game for the rest of his life—which if true, would be a good thing.
Bill Mueller Questionnaire:
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: My dad.
What was the strangest thing you ever saw as a player?: People jumping on the field and running around.
What was the best prank you ever saw in baseball?: I liked the rookie getting his jersey switched to someone else’s and him sitting on bench during the game, not knowing.
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: Be more of an RBI guy earlier in my career.
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