SABR

Freddie Muller

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

He was perhaps named after one of the German emperors named Friedrich Wilhelm, or after German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Frederick William Muller was born on December 21, 1907, a son of German immigrants George and Mary Muller. George Muller worked as a laborer in a varnish factory at the time of the 1920 US Census. He had arrived in the United States in 1884, and Mary had come in 1892. The two met and had three children, Matthew, Frederick, and Anna. At the time of Freddie’s death, his mother’s name was given as Evangeline.

Newark, California, is an enclave surrounded by the city of Fremont, in Alameda County on the east side of San Francisco Bay. It’s where Freddie, as he came to be known, was born. Freddie wanted to play baseball.

Muller went to Newark Elementary and then Washington Union High School. He played both baseball and football at the University of California and attracted enough attention that he was signed professionally and proved to be a bit of a right-handed home-run hitter in the minor leagues after breaking in with the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League in 1928. Muller had signed on as a utility infielder, but his “sweeping swing that gives the ball a long ride” earned him attention, and a regular job at third base early in the season.i He hit for just a .231 average, but his 40 extra-base hits (including eight homers) gave him a .368 slugging percentage. He bumped his batting average up to .255 with ten homers in 1929 (playing shortstop for Seattle) and .274 (with 13 homers and a .439 slugging percentage) in 1930.

For five years in a row, all with Seattle, Muller improved in all the key standard offensive statistics so that in 1932 he hit .282 (.544 slugging) with a league-leading 38 homers. And in 1933 he was hitting at an even more productive pace for the first half of the year (83 games), at .327 with 20 homers and a .622 slugging average. Even as late as entering the 1931 season, Muller was still fighting it out for a slot as a utility infielder for manager Ernie Johnson but he was getting playing time and coming through with the bat. His fielding typically had him in the middle of the pack, but by May 1931 had been asked to play second base and was starting to come through. Leo Lassen wrote in The Sporting News of his “great improvement” working on double plays and added, “Muller is still in his early twenties and has overcome the stiffness and nervousness in the field that retarded his development for the past two years.”ii He helped turn a league-record 239 double plays in 1931.iii

In 1932 Muller was named second baseman on the Pacific Coast League All-Star team. Anyone averaging a home run more or less every four games, as he did in 1932 and the first part of 1933, is going to attract attention, and the Boston Red Sox signed him to a major-league contract and then popped him into his first game on July 8, 1933.

Shortly after Tom Yawkey purchased the Red Sox, he hired Eddie Collins as the team’s general manager and Collins began to sign players. About $40,000 of Yawkey’s money was devoted to signing two Seattle ballplayers on Collins’ swing through the West Coast – Muller and right fielder Mel Almada.iv The purchase was said to have “saved the Seattle club from financial ruin.”v A Seattle man wrote the Boston Globe’s Victor O. Jones about Muller, “He doesn’t choke. Eddie Collins watched him here for a whole week and Muller knew a Big League chance depended on how he played. He never played better ball and as a clincher hit two homers in the final game which Eddie was to see him.”vi

Muller may not have been quite as young as Collins thought, however. Shaving a year or two off one’s age was a time-honored baseball tradition, and news reports of the day had him born in 1909, not 1907.

Succeeding in Double-A ball and succeeding in the major leagues are different matters. Muller was waiting for the Red Sox when they returned from a road trip and got into his first game on July 8, 1933, pinch hitting for the pitcher, Bob Kline, in the bottom of the ninth. He fouled out to the catcher.

His first start came on July 11. He played the full game at second base and collected his first base hit. The Boston Globe’s James C. O’Leary wrote that he “looked good as the pivot man in a double play earlier in the game, and the way he stood up to his work while at bat was impressive.” He lost one ball in the sun (it dropped at his feet), but “clicked a nice single to right and stole second” in the fifth.vii

After 12 plate appearances in his first five games, Muller had just two singles and was hitting .167. He’d reportedly strained his throwing arm in one of his first games with Boston. On July 27, after the Red Sox acquired first baseman Joe Judge from Brooklyn, Muller was sent on option to Montreal to give him the opportunity to get more playing time. For the Royals, he hit .242, but with just one homer, and even found himself riding the bench a bit there, too. He rejoined the Red Sox in September, stepping into his first game on the 12th. He was 0-for-4 in that game but a hard line drive to right field was only corralled on a spectacular catch.

It was in Muller’s fourth game back that he connected for another hit, on the 19th against Cleveland, when he singled to lead off the fifth and came around to score. He reached on a fielder’s choice in the seventh and scored again on Billy Werber’s triple, helping the Red Sox win, 4-3.

Muller’s best game of his major-league career came on September 23, though in a high-scoring 16-12 loss to the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Muller was 3-for-5 (two singles and a double) with two runs scored, and drove in his first run. On the 28th his sixth-inning triple drove in the first Red Sox run against the Philadelphia Athletics and he scored the tying run a few moments later; the Red Sox ultimately won, 4-3.

Muller’s first major-league season saw him in 15 games, batting .188 with a .264 on-base percentage. He had one double and one triple, drove in three runs, and scored six. He committed five errors in 65 chances.

The Red Sox put Muller on the reserve list for 1934, and he began the season as a utilityman, but appeared in only two games, on May 5 and 13. He walked and scored a run on the 13th but that was his only contribution to the team, and when infielder Bill Cissell broke a toe, the Red Sox needed someone better and worked out a deal with the Yankees, sending them Muller and $20,000 for experienced defensive shortstop Lyn Lary. Muller was told to report to the Newark Bears. Newark manager Bob Shawkey put Muller at second base and in the 91 games he played for the Bears, he came though nicely, batting at a .293 pace with 16 homers. Muller never returned to the major leagues.

Muller spent the next four years back in the Coast League, appearing in 150 games for the Oakland Oaks in 1935 and hitting .266 with 13 homers, short of his previous PCL figures. His grand slam on May 11, however, beat Sacramento, 4-2. He was still on a Yankees contract but in March 1936 Seattle bought the right to his services and for the next three seasons, Muller was back with Seattle, where he regained his productivity somewhat. He hit .305 in 1936 with 30 homers, then saw his slugging decline to 26 home runs in 1937 and 20 in ’38. Muller’s average bobbed down (.288 in 1937) and then back up (.297 in ’38). His work turning the double play remained a highly prized feature of his play.

Late in 1938 Muller was sold to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association for the 1939 season. He moved to third base and hit another 20 home runs, but saw his average drop to .247. In February the Portland Beavers paid $3,000 to purchase his contract and brought him back to the Pacific Coast League for what proved to be a partial, final season – he appeared in 68 games, batting .234 with just three home runs in 1940.viii He was released unconditionally on June 26.

After leaving baseball, Muller moved to Davis, California, where he lived the remainder of his life. He purchased 3,000 acres of farmland and was raising crops of beans, peas, and grain.ix Later, he became supervisor of Andco Farms, a farming cooperative.

After a long illness, Muller died on October 20, 1976, in El Macero, California. He was survived by his wife, Dayle (Langdon) Muller, whom he had married in 1929; children Dorothy, Charles, and Tommy – and his mother.x

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Muller’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i The Sporting News, May 3, 1928.

ii The Sporting News, May 28, 1931.

iii The Sporting News, January 5, 1939.

iv The Sporting News, July 6, 1933. Collins also purchased the contract of the Missions’ Bucky Walters on the same trip.

v The Sporting News, December 14, 1933.

vi Undated clipping from Muller’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

vii Boston Globe, July 12, 1933.

viii The Sporting News, February 29, 1940.

ix Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1945.

x Sacramento Union, October 22, 1976.

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