This article was written by Kevin Bley
Every young boy imagines coming up to bat when defeat seems certain and delivering the big hit. However, William Richard Mueller, in his St. Louis suburban yard, could not have imagined a scenario or set of circumstances quite as improbable.
Bill Mueller was born the only child of William Romeo and Barbara Ann (Poleweski) Mueller on March 17, 1971, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, a suburb in northwest St. Louis County. He enjoyed playing multiple sports but was particularly drawn to baseball. His father would frequently come home from his job as a purchasing agent for McDonnell Douglas to practice baseball when Mueller returned from school. While practicing in their long driveway, Mueller, who threw and batted right-handed, attempted some left-handed swings. The switch-hitting seed was planted, and it grew into a regular practice and he was fully a switch-hitter by high school.
As a child, Mueller participated in Ballwin Athletic Association baseball leagues. Summers during high school were spent playing for Maryland Heights American Legion Post 213. Mueller tried to emulate certain skills from the players he watched: soft fielding hands of Ozzie Smith; strike-zone discipline of Ryne Sandberg; hand and eye coordination of Willie McGee; basestealing of Vince Coleman.
The 14-year-old Mueller attended De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur, Missouri. He participated in multiple sports including football, basketball, and baseball. Mueller made limited varsity appearances through his sophomore year but became a force in his junior and senior years. “Bill got where he was because he was an over-achiever,” recounted De Smet’s varsity coach, Greg Vitello. “He was relentless. We’d do a drill of 100 groundballs and he wouldn’t quit until he completed them all in a row perfectly.”1 The determination resulted in a scholarship to Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State) in Springfield, Missouri.
“The first time I saw (Mueller), he was playing right field for the Maryland Heights Legion team. He ran harder on and off the field than any other player ran the bases that day,” Missouri State head baseball coach Keith Guttin recalled. “He could beat you in more ways than any other player in my 38 years of coaching.”2
Mueller started for the Bears all four years and became the single-season record holder for runs, hits, singles, and walks, and had career marks for runs (234), hits (289), total bases (398), walks (154), and stolen bases (65). Mueller’s four-year .376 average still stood as of 2020 as the Missouri State record for a four-year career.3 He has been inducted into the Missouri State Athletics and Missouri Valley Conference Halls of Fame. Perhaps Mueller’s slightly below-average player size (5-feet-11, 175 pounds) resulted in his later-round drafting by the San Francisco Giants; he was selected in the 15th round of the 1993 June Amateur Draft.
During college summers, Mueller played in three collegiate leagues: St. Louis Metro League (1990 Yankees), Jayhawk League (1991 Wichita Broncos), and Cape Cod League (1992 Bourne Braves).
After the draft in 1993, Mueller reported to Everett, Washington, for the Giants’ short-season Class A club in the Northwest League. He finished second on the team in batting average (.300). In 1994 with San Jose of the High-A California League, Mueller again displayed solid offensive numbers, finishing among the top hitters (.302 BA). Mueller progressed in 1995 to the Shreveport Captains of the Double-A Texas League, where the hits kept coming. After 88 games Mueller (.309) was promoted to the Triple-A Phoenix Firebirds and finished well (.297 BA). By now, he was sniffing at his major-league shot.
Mueller went to 1996 spring training with a legitimate chance to make the big-league squad or at least earn consideration during the season. He started the season in Phoenix, but the call to join the Giants came quickly after a minor injury to Shawon Dunston. Mueller flew to Chicago to join the club against the Cubs on April 18. He started on the bench but pinch-hit for Shawn Barton in the top of the seventh inning. The result was a flyout to left in the Giants’ loss. The next day unfolded similarly with Mueller starting on the bench. He entered the game playing third base and batting for the pitcher, Steve Bourgeois, in the ninth. The outcome this time was a single to left field — Mueller’s first major-league hit. The reward? A flight back to Phoenix to continue developing at Triple A. However, there was a high probability of returning later in the season if he performed as he had in past seasons. He did.
In five minor-league stops from 1993 to 1996, Mueller batted between .297 and .309 — the picture of consistent and successful hitting. He returned to the Giants at the end of July and quickly saw starts as fellow third baseman Matt Williams was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.4 Mueller finished the season with an impressive .330 average. He had earned his major-league status, but the team stumbled to last place.
In the offseason, Brian Sabean replaced Bob Quinn as the Giants’ general manager and soon traded the popular Williams to the Cleveland Indians for Jose Vizcaino, Julian Tavarez, Joe Roa, and Jeff Kent. To many, the trade looked foolish as Williams had been key to the Giants’ offense and defense. Sabean stuck to his reasoning and proved his case. “I know if we had stayed on the same path we would have Rich Aurilia playing shortstop and Bill Mueller at second,” Sabean said. “I think we upgraded both those positions.”5
After the trade Mueller was the starting third baseman for the 1997 Giants but split some time with Mark Lewis. He nonetheless appeared in 128 games. He hammered his first career home run on the road, against the Florida Marlins on June 3 facing rookie pitcher Rob Stanifer. On July 23 in San Francisco, Mueller went 4-for-4 at the plate with a home run and five RBIs in a rout of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Giants finished the season on top of the NL West with Mueller holding the team’s highest batting average (.292). The eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins swept the Giants in the Division Series but Mueller hit a home run in Game One.
The 1998 season included more playing time for Mueller and higher marks in most offensive categories. Personal highlights included a two-home-run game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 5. Both came off starter Andy Benes and were the only Giants runs in the 3-2 road loss. Mueller belted his first career grand slam on September 19 against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers’ Ismael Valdez. Four-hit games on May 21 against the Milwaukee Brewers and September 16 at Arizona helped keep his average high (.294) for the season. The Giants completed the season in second place, 9½ games behind the San Diego Padres.
The first inning of Opening Day is full of anticipation and butterflies. Brett Tomko was the starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds when the Giants visited on April 5, 1999, and was perhaps not in midseason form. A low pitch struck Mueller in his first at-bat, breaking the big toe of his left foot.6 After healing, he entered a three-game rehabilitation stint with Triple-A Fresno which included five hits and six RBIs. Mueller rejoined the team on May 17. Seven games later, on May 25, Mueller and the Giants visited his hometown of St. Louis and Mueller hit his second career grand slam over the deep left-field wall off Kent Mercker during a 17-1 rout. In keeping with the previous season, Mueller finished with a .290 batting mark and the Giants finished in second place.
To gain additional power and strengthen the bench, the Giants signed free-agent third baseman Russ Davis in the offseason. Trade rumors swirled about Mueller, but Brian Sabean moderated them and explained the third-base job: “Billy Mueller obviously is a guy that we know. It’s up to Russ to come in here and press the issue for the team. I feel confident it will work out for everyone, and everyone will get enough at-bats.”7 Mueller was the starting third baseman, but Davis had 33 starts throughout the year. The Giants began the 2000 home schedule at their new Pacific Bell Park (later named Oracle Park). In the first inning, Mueller got a single, the first hit by a Giant in the ballpark. The Giants won 97 games and took the National League West. However, it was a less impressive year by Mueller’s standards. His average dropped to .268 and competition for third base was forming in Davis, Ramon Martinez, and prospect Pedro Feliz. As in 1997, the Giants fell in the Division Series, this time to the New York Mets three games to one.
The trade buzz from the previous offseason didn’t have long to resurface. Mueller was dealt to the Chicago Cubs on November 18 for pitcher Tim Worrell. “As things went forward, we decided we were not going to give Billy a multiyear deal, with Pedro Feliz coming in from Triple-A and having Russ Davis also, who has produced at that position in the past,” Sabean said.8 Giants manager Dusty Baker added his thoughts on Mueller: “Certainly we were not in a hurry to get rid of Billy, because he was one of our favorites and a gutsy ballplayer, but the Cubs wanted Billy real badly. You hate to lose him big-time. We raised him. But I think this will be a good situation for him.”9 Mueller observed, “There have been a lot of guys in major-league baseball who’ve been traded more than once. It’s just a new experience for me and that’s why I’m excited about meeting new people and a new staff and learning a new philosophy and seeing the game in a new light. You never know what can help you.”10 The optimism made an impression on both teams.
Mueller opened the 2001 season on an offensive tear. As the Cubs wrapped up a visit to St. Louis on May 13, Mueller was batting .312 and playing brilliant defense. Starting the game at third, he hit an RBI triple in the first and scored. Then came bad news for the Cubs. While tracking a foul popup, Mueller collided with a wall and broke his patella — an injury that sidelined him until August 13. The Cardinals won the game, 13-4, sweeping the Cubs, and took over first place. “He’s irreplaceable at third base,” said teammate Kerry Wood. “He’s a Gold Glove third baseman, in my opinion, and [losing him] is the worst thing about the whole road trip. It will be tough to come back from that.”11 After returning to the Cubs, Mueller endured an 0-for-14 stretch before regaining his early-season production; he finished the season batting .295. Wood’s prophecy was accurate. The Cubs finished third in the National League Central.
The knee injury suffered in 2001 lingered and Mueller had surgery on March 11, 2002, to clean up the affected area before the start of the season.12 He began the year on the disabled list, returning on May 6. Mueller yielded average numbers offensively for the Cubs through the beginning of September, but his last month was much improved. The Cubs were out of contention early and decided to deal Mueller back to the Giants for cash and pitching prospect Jeff Verplancke on September 4. “It’s an opportunity to be back in San Francisco where it’s familiar to me,” Mueller said. “I just want to do whatever comes my way to help these guys.”13
Mueller was to fulfill a bench role and help the Giants try to catch the first-place Diamondbacks down the stretch. Since the trade occurred after September 1, Mueller was not eligible to join the Giants’ postseason roster. “It’s unfortunate that I can’t stay with them if and when they make the playoffs, but I’m going to do whatever I can to help,” he said.14 The Giants wound up in second place in the division, but won the wild-card spot and defeated the Cardinals in the NLCS to capture the National League pennant. They lost to the Anaheim Angels in the World Series. After the season Mueller became a free agent.
On January 4, 2003, the Boston Red Sox signed Mueller. Good times were ahead for both Mueller and Boston in the 2003 season. Hits came early for Mueller — by the end of May, he was batting .379. They kept coming all season. By the All-Star break, Mueller had hit 30 doubles. He had three four-hit games: June 27 (Marlins), July 10 (Blue Jays), and September 8 (Orioles). On the road against the Texas Rangers on July 29, he had a game for the record books. In the top of the third, Mueller led off with a home run off R.A. Dickey. Batting from the right side against Aaron Fultz in the seventh, Mueller placed his second home run in the left-field seats — this time a grand slam. Again, in the eighth with the bases loaded, now batting left-handed, he connected for another grand slam (his third home run of the game) against Jay Powell. Through the 2019 season, Mueller is the only major leaguer to hit a grand slam while batting right-handed and left-handed in a game. “You never come to the ballpark thinking you’re going to do anything like this,” Mueller reflected after the game. “I’m just trying to have some good at-bats, and I guess some of my good at-bats went over the wall tonight.”15
The season ended for Mueller with career highs in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, and RBIs. He was awarded the Silver Slugger Award at third base. It was his top season in batting average (.326) and the best in the American League, just edging teammate Manny Ramirez by .001. “I’m not a stats guy,” Mueller said as he downplayed the batting title. “I don’t show up at the park to do things like that. I show up to help the team.”16 Help the team he did — the Red Sox won the American League wild-card position and faced the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series. They skirted by the A’s after losing the first two games, but later lost to their traditional rivals, the New York Yankees, in seven games in the Championship Series. It was a slow postseason for Mueller (8 hits in 12 games) after a tremendous regular season.
The 2004 season began well for the Red Sox despite early injuries sidelining Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra. However, Mueller was battling pain in his knee again. “This is an issue I’ve been dealing with for quite some time,” he confessed.17 In May Mueller and the team decided surgery was necessary to prevent inflammation caused by degeneration. He was shelved from May 20 through a rehab assignment in late June, finally rejoining the Red Sox on July 2. Mueller’s bat started to heat up and he ended the season batting .283, which was 21 points higher than his pre-surgery average. On July 24, Mueller popped a walk-off home run against the Yankees in a wild game at Fenway Park that included a brawl and a three-run bottom of the ninth. Red Sox manager Terry Francona wishfully observed, “I hope we look back a while from now and we’re saying that this brought us together. … I hope a long time from now we look back and say this did it.”18
The Red Sox went on to again win the wild card. They swept the Anaheim Angels in the Division Series to face the Yankees in a Championship Series rematch. The Yankees took the first two games of the best-of-seven series at home and the third, an embarrassing 19-8 loss, at Fenway Park. To make things worse, they trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth of Game Four facing the pitcher known as “The Sandman,” future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera. Defeat was in the air. Kevin Millar led off with a base on balls and was lifted for a pinch-runner, Dave Roberts. Roberts stole second to get into scoring position. Up stepped Mueller … and hope.
“Up the middle. Roberts will come to the plate. The throw by Williams. Bill Mueller has tied it.” — Joe Buck calling Mueller’s game-tying single off Rivera in the ninth inning of Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series.19
Mueller had singled to center field and scored Roberts to tie the game. The Red Sox went on to win the game in the 12th inning on a walk-off home run by David Ortiz. The next night, Ortiz repeated with another game-winning RBI — this time, a single in the 14th inning. The Red Sox prevailed in the next two games in New York and won the American League pennant. No team had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series.
The World Series was against the team for which Mueller grew up cheering. The Cardinals had won 105 games in the regular season, but the Red Sox were riding an emotional high after their astounding come-from-behind victory. The Red Sox made quick work of the Cardinals, sweeping the Series and earning their first World Series championship in 86 years. Mueller had a nice series at the plate: .429 average with two RBIs. He reflected on his experience with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of the final game, “I remember standing at third base and looking up in the stands and saying, ‘I can’t believe it, we’re going to be World Series champions.’ Just seeing the Boston Red Sox fans standing up in Busch Stadium, I’m like, ‘Man, what an unbelievable thing. I never want to forget this feeling. I never want to forget how I’m feeling right now at this moment.’ That was a dream come true.”20
Mueller responded in 2005 with a characteristic performance: .295 batting average, 10 home runs, 62 RBIs. The Red Sox took the wild card for the third consecutive year and tried to repeat in the postseason but were swept by the Chicago White Sox in the Division Series.
Although never one to break out with noteworthy power, Mueller was difficult to strike out during his career and gave consistent quality at-bats. Similarly, he never won the coveted Gold Glove Award, but fielded commendably (.958 career fielding percentage). During his first (and last) Hall of Fame eligibility year, 2012, Mueller received only four votes and was dropped off future baseball writers’ ballots. But Mueller’s career earned him respect among teammates and fans who affectionately dubbed him “Billy Ballgame.”
Free agency, which Mueller entered at the end of the season, did not last long. He and the Los Angeles Dodgers made a two-year agreement official on December 15, 2005. Ned Colletti and Grady Little, the Dodgers’ new general manager and manager respectively, both had experience with Mueller, Colletti as the Giants’ assistant general manager and Little as the Red Sox manager in 2003. “Every successful team has true baseball players with the makeup, drive and desire of Bill Mueller,” said Colletti. “His ability to hit from both sides of the plate will give Grady additional maneuverability.”21
As usual, Mueller got out of the gate in 2006 with solid hitting. Through April he was hitting .299, but there was trouble with his right knee again. The next seven games showed that the knee was too troublesome. Mueller underwent his third surgery. Recovery was more difficult than before and the “degenerative, arthritic changes” ultimately led to the choice in November to retire from playing.22
Mueller was far from finished with baseball. The Dodgers kept him on as a special assistant to the general manager. In June 2007 Eddie Murray was fired from his job as hitting coach and Mueller “agreed to help us bridge the gap,” Colletti told reporters.23 After about a month, Mueller was officially assigned the role and finished the season before reverting back to special assistant. He remained in this position through the 2012 season and then moved into scouting for the Dodgers for an additional season.
In 2014 Mueller returned to the Cubs as their hitting coach. It was short-lived as he resigned after just one season. The decision was tied to the termination of assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley. The Central Division rival Cardinals quickly contracted with Mueller to assist hitting coach John Mabry in 2015. Mueller spoke about the importance of coach relationships: “Having known [Mabry] for as long as I have, I know who he is and he knows who I am. There were other [organizations] … that I could have been a part of. … [A]gain I search for the right relationships.”24
Mueller shifted to first-base coach for the 2016 season when José Oquendo had to temporarily vacate his third-base coaching role due to surgery. He returned to the assistant hitting coach role in 2017 with an extended personal leave of absence in June. In 2018 the Cardinals’ front office was unsatisfied with results by July 14 and decided to shake up much of the coaching staff. Mueller was fired along with Mabry and manager Mike Matheny.
While playing or coaching with the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cardinals, Mueller tried to choose uniform numbers to reflect the birthdates of his children. With his wife, Amy, Mueller has three children: daughter Alexis and two sons, Tucker and Dawson.
As of 2020, Mueller hoped to rejoin an organization to continue to share his baseball experience to new generations.
Last revised: July 23, 2020
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Len Levin and fact-checked by David Kritzler.
Statistics have been taken from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
Content includes the author’s interviews with Greg Vitello, Keith Guttin, and Bill Mueller in 2020.
1 Author interviews with Greg Vitello in April and May 2020.
2 Author interview with Keith Guttin in April 2020.
4 Tony Blengino, “Once Upon a Fractured Season: Matt Williams and the 1994 Home Run Chase,” Forbes, March 19, 2020.
5 David Bush, “GM Defends Williams Deal / Sabean: ‘I am not an idiot,’” SFGATE, November 16, 1996. sfgate.com/sports/article/GM-Defends-Williams-Deal-Sabean-I-am-not-an-2959131.php
6 Associated Press, “McGwire’s First Isn’t Enough for St. Louis,” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1999.
7 Henry Schulman, “Giants Sign Third Baseman Davis,” SFGATE, January 25, 2000. sfgate.com/sports/article/Giants-Sign-Third-Baseman-Davis-2781142.php.
8 Henry Schulman, “Giants Give Up Mueller to Cubs / Reliever Worrell coming to S.F.; 3B Davis re-signs,” SFGATE, November 20, 2000. sfgate.com/sports/article/Giants-Give-Up-Mueller-To-Cubs-Reliever-Worrell-2727354.php.
9 Schulman, “Giants Give Up Mueller to Cubs.”
10 Schulman, “Giants Give Up Mueller to Cubs.
11 Teddy Greenstein, “Mueller, Cubs Hit Wall,” Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2001.
12 “Cardinals’ Ankiel Put on DL,” Washington Post, March 29, 2002.
14 Associated Press, “Giants Trade Minor League Pitcher for Mueller.”
16 Ron Kroichick, “Hitting 8th: Bill Mueller, the AL’s Batting Champion,” SFGATE, October 1, 2003. sfgate.com/sports/kroichick/article/Hitting-8th-Bill-Mueller-the-AL-s-batting-2584869.php.
17 Ken Davis, “Mueller to Have Knee Surgery,” Hartford Courant, May 26, 2004.
18 Dan Shaughnessy, “Red Sox Win Slugfest with Yankees / Mueller Slams Dramatic Homer, 11-10,” Boston Globe, July 25, 2004.
20 Ian Browne, Idiots Revisited: Catching Up with the Red Sox Who Won the 2004 World Series (Thomaston, Maine: Tilbury House, 2014).
22 Steve Henson, “Mueller’s Knee Injury Might Threaten Career,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2006.
23 Tony Jackson, “Eddie Murray Fired by Dodgers,” Los Angeles Daily News, June 14, 2007.
24 Brendan Marks, “Cardinals’ New Assistant Hitting Coach Bill Mueller on The Press Box,” InsideStl.com, November 19, 2014. insidestl.com/cardinals-new-assistant-hitting-coach-bill-mueller-on-the-press-box-2/1937156.