Former Red Sox third baseman Bill Muller delivered one of the more important RBI in team history when he drove in Dave Roberts from second base to tie the Yankees 4-4 in the ninth inning of Game Four of the 2004 ALCS. Mueller’s clutch single to centerfield kept Red Sox hopes alive for their first World Championship in 86 seasons, and set the table for Big Papi’s memorable twelfth inning walk-off home run.
Mueller’s timely hit came immediately after Dave Roberts’ steal of second base, which has been rightfully recognized as one of the great moments in Red Sox history. But if no one had driven Roberts home, his dramatic steal would be just a footnote in Red Sox lore.
Looking back almost five years later, Mueller has an interesting take on one of the more important innings in Red Sox history. “Everyone in the ballpark knew Dave Roberts was going to try to steal second base. The whole season was on the line, so it doesn’t get any more exciting than that.
“But from a baseball point-of-view, Kevin Millar’s walk was equal to Dave’s steal and equal to my RBI. Kevin knew he had to get on base to start the inning and he managed to draw a walk from Mariano Rivera, one of the great closers of all-time. His walk allowed Dave to pinch run and steal the base that led to my RBI.” And he adds, “All three of us did what we were supposed to do in that situation.”
ST. LOUIS CARDINAL FAN
Bill Mueller was born and raised in Maryland Heights, Missouri, a city of 25,000, located about 20 miles northwest of downtown St. Louis. Busch Stadium was about a 40-minute drive from the Mueller home, and Bill acknowledges that he was a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan.
“Professional sports teams are a big deal in St. Louis,” he says. “It’s part of the culture. I was a huge Cardinals fan, but I was also a big fan of the St. Louis Blues, and the NFL Cardinals while they were there. Sports really get your attention in St. Louis.”
Bill Mueller remembers playing all sports in season as a youngster. “My dad had played soccer in college so I played the game year-round as a kid. I loved baseball but I really enjoyed all sports like most kids. And I played them all at about the same skill level as everyone else.”
He recalls that he was a sixth grader when his dad began to teach him to switch-hit. A natural right-hander, Bill says it took him quite awhile to get comfortable batting from the other side. “My dad knew that I really enjoyed baseball but I wasn’t very big and I wasn’t particularly fast. He thought switch-hitting would give me an edge.
“My dad spent hours throwing to me in our backyard but it was about two years before I tried it in a game, and I didn’t really feel comfortable batting lefty until I was a sophomore in high school.”
Mueller downplays his baseball career at De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur, Missouri. “Let’s just say there weren’t any big league scouts following me around,” he offers. But he played well enough to earn a baseball scholarship to SouthwesternMissouriStateUniversity. “It meant a lot my family, and to me, that baseball helped me to go to college.”
Looking back, he believes that a season playing for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League played a pivotal role in his future big league career. “After my junior year in college, no team picked me in the June major league draft. But I played for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League that summer and made the All-star team. I enjoyed everything about that summer.”
BIG LEAGUE DREAMING
Bill Mueller was named Player of the Year for the Pioneer Valley Conference after his outstanding senior year at SouthwesternMissouriState, and the San Francisco Giants selected him in the 15th round of the June 1993 amateur draft. “Truthfully, that was the first time I ever thought of a career in professional baseball. I never understood why no one wanted me the year before and I went in the 15th round the following year. But I was just happy to be drafted.”
Mueller moved quickly through the Giants’ minor League system, and he made his major league debut on April 18, 1996, pinch-hitting against the Chicago Cubs. “I remember that game of course, but the whole thing was kind of surreal,” he recalls.
“I had trouble believing I was actually playing in the big leagues at Wrigley Field. I pinch-hit again the next day and got my first big league hit. The whole experience was a dream come true.”
He became the Giants regular third baseman the following year, and filled that role for the next four seasons. Mueller was a solid .290 hitter during his five years with the Giants and he was known for his steady play at third. But in November 2000 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for relief pitcher Tim Worrell.
“It was hard to leave San Francisco. I had met my wife Amy there, and it’s a beautiful city, with lots to do. I was looking forward to playing for the Cubs, but my St. Louis friends weren’t happy about it,” he chuckles.
“The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is a lot like the Red Sox-Yankees for fans,” he explains. “I remember my best friend’s mother said, ‘I don’t think I can root for you any more since you’re with the Cubs.’ And she practically raised me!”
Mueller got off to a great start with the Cubs, and in mid-May he was batting .317. “The Cubs hitting coach, Jeff Pentland had really helped me. He got me to cut down on my swing and to be quicker with my bat. I was driving the ball 15-20 feet further.” But on May 13, he suffered a fractured left kneecap sliding into the metal below the padding along the third-base line in Busch Stadium.
“I wish I could have contributed more to the Cubs,” Bill says referring to the two years he played for Chicago, “but after the knee injury I wasn’t at full strength either season.” The Cubs traded Muller back to the Giants in September 2003, and he batted .250 for San Francisco in the NLDS. He signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent in January 2003.
CAREER YEAR OF 2003
Bill Mueller grew up in the baseball-happy city of St. Louis, and played for the Cubs in Wrigley Field, but he acknowledges that nothing prepared him for the enthusiasm and intensity of Red Sox Nation. “I had heard about it and they told me about it, but I never realized how much Boston fans get into their team until I experienced it.
“I had never played at Fenway before my first year with the team. Once you get used to it, having the fans behind you in Boston really helps you as a player.”
Bill Mueller had spent seven seasons in the National League before signing with the Red Sox in 2003, but he adjusted to the American League immediately. He batted .315 in his first month with the team, and followed that up with a major league-best .418 in May. Mueller cooled off in June, but July 2003 would turn out to be the best month of his major league career.
The month started with an appropriate bang on the Fourth of July in Yankee Stadium. In the top of the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium, batting right-handed, Bill Mueller hit a home run off David Wells to give the Red Sox a 7-3 lead. In the top of the ninth inning, batting left-handed against Yankee reliever Dan Miceli, Mueller homered again to give Boston an insurmountable 10-3 lead. Bill Mueller became only the fourth player in Red Sox history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game.
Bill has a clear memory of his Fourth of July celebration in 2003. “It meant a lot coming in a win over the Yankees in the Stadium. But I always maintained an ‘even-keel” approach to each game, never getting too high or too low from game-to-game.”
Bill Mueller was only warming up with his Fourth of July fireworks. On July 29, in a game against the Texas Rangers in The Ballpark At Arlington, his name went into the major league record book and pieces of his equipment went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Bill warmed up for his big night with a solo home run in the third inning against R.A. Dickey. Then in the seventh inning, batting right-handed against Aaron Fultz, Mueller added a grand slam home run. One inning later, hitting from the left side against Jay Powell, he hammered his second grand slam of the game.
Bill Mueller had become the first hitter in major league history to hit grand slam home runs from both sides of the plate in one game. Looking back on his big night, Mueller says, “I think it was more exciting for my wife Amy. She was getting calls from friends all over the country. People were very excited for us, and that was nice. I was mostly surprised that the home runs came against pitchers who were usually tough for me. It was nice to contribute to a big win.”
Mueller continued his hot hitting throughout the 2003 season, helping the team to earn a Wild Card spot in the postseason. He finished with a batting average of .326 to win the American League batting title, the 25th player in Red Sox history to achieve that distinction.
“That was a year where everything came together for me as a hitter,” Bill recalls. “I had shortened my stroke, became a little more aggressive on hitters counts, and it all fell into place for me. And my batting stroke was ideal for FenwayPark,” he adds.
At 5’ 10” and 175 pounds, Bill Mueller was among the smaller Red Sox players, but no one was more prepared come game time. Recognizing his preparation and intensity, in 2004 his teammates started referring to him as “Billy Ballgame.” This was no small honor since it was inspired by Ted Williams’ title of “Teddy Ballgame.”
Talking about his preparation Mueller offers, “You have to adjust from at-bat to at-bat, and game to game. The only way to stay in the big leagues and to succeed in this game is to continually adjust and improve.”
Asked if the 2004 Red Sox were haunted by memories of Aaron Boone’s 12th inning home run in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, Bill Mueller has an interesting answer. “It’s different for the players because your fate is in your hands. You have an opportunity to impact the outcome. You are disappointed after a loss like that but you know you did everything you could to win.
“It’s more frustrating for fans because the game is out of their control. A loss is tougher for them to accept. But as players, our focus in 2004 was on the players added to the team in the off-season. We had every reason to feel good about our chances that year,” he emphasizes.
While Bill Mueller had largely avoided injuries in 2003, appearing in 146 regular season games, he was not as fortunate in 2004. Bothered by discomfort in his right knee, he was batting around the .250 mark in mid-May. On May 28 he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee and he was out of action until early July.
He returned to the lineup on July 2 in Atlanta, and he went 10-22 in his first six games. Bill Muller was back and his steady play helped to keep the Red Sox in contention in the American League East. When the Yankees came to town in late July the Red Sox trailed their long-time rivals by 8.5 games.
After losing the first game of the series on Friday night, to drop 9.5 games back, the Red Sox quickly fell behind the Yankees 3-0 in a soggy Saturday afternoon game. In the third inning Jason Veritek and Alex Rodriguez scuffled along the first base line, and the field at FenwayPark briefly took on the look of a hockey rink. Order was restored and then both teams concentrated on offense. When Bill Mueller stepped to the plate with one on and one out in the last of the ninth inning, the Red Sox trailed 10-9.
Looking back at his at-bat against the Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera, Mueller says, “In a situation like that you are simply looking for a pitch you can handle. You look for a pitch that you can square up on and drive somewhere. Believe me, the last thing on my mind was a home run,” he laughs. But hit a home run is exactly what he did: Mueller launched a long drive into the Red Sox bullpen to secure one of the more important wins of the 2004 regular season.
WORLD CHAMPIONS OF 2004
Bill Mueller batted .322 over his last 44 games in 2004 and he contributed his usual steady play at third base. Led by the clutch hitting of David Ortiz and outstanding pitching depth, the 2004 Red Sox won 98 games over the regular season, earning a Wild Card spot for a return to the playoffs.
The Red Sox swept the Anaheim Angels in the three games to capture the ALDS, setting up their fateful confrontation with the New Yankees in the ALCS. Asked if he thought back to his July home run against Mariano Rivera, when he faced the Yankee closer in the ninth inning of Game Four with Dave Roberts on second base, Bill laughs heartily. “Not at all! Again, you are totally focused on getting a pitch you can put in play. You are looking to hit safely, but if you make an out, it has to be a productive out, one that will move the runner over.”
The Red Sox comeback from a three-game deficit against the Yankees in the 2004 ALDS ranks among the great stories in sports’ history. It had a special meaning for all of Red Sox Nation, but for Bill Mueller it meant he was going home to St. Louis to play in front of family and friends in the World Series.
“It was really a big deal for me and my family to be playing in the World Series in St. Louis at Busch Stadium. It was very special for us,” he remembers. “And even though they are all Cardinal fans, I had a lot of old friends who were rooting for me to do well, including my best friend’s mother. I think, ” he chuckles.
Bill Mueller had an outstanding World Series for the Red Sox, batting .429 with two doubles, two RBI and three runs scored in the four game series. Asked how it felt to celebrate the World Championship on the field in St. Louis in front of family and friends, Bill says, “It was so special, one of the top moments in my baseball career.”
Bill Muller appeared in 150 games for the 2005 Boston Red Sox, including five games at second base when injuries left the team short-handed at that position. He batted .295 and helped the Red Sox qualify as the Wild Card for their third-straight postseason appearance. But the Red Sox lost three straight games to the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS in what turned out to be Bill Mueller’s final games with the team.
Mueller signed a two-year contract in the off-season to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The move brought him together with former Red Sox manager Grady Little and former teammates Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe. But his playing time with the Dodgers would be brief. After playing in 32 games for the 2006 Dodgers, in mid-May he had his third surgical procedure on his right knee. Doctors’ concluded that his knee was beyond repair. Bill Mueller retired as an active player following the 2006 season.
Mueller was hired as special assistant to Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti immediately following his retirement. “I got to know Ned when I was with the Giants and he was their assistant general manager. He has been great to work with. I get involved with scouting and I help with the minor league teams. Basically I help out wherever I am needed. Everyone has gone out of his or her way to make it an easy transition. It’s been great.”
Bill and Amy Mueller make their home in Phoenix, Arizona, and they welcomed a son, Dalton, into their family in June. They also have a daughter, Alexis, who is age six, and another son, Mathew, who is three. He is currently the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs.
Asked this June if he would predict a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series in October, Bill demonstrates that he has made a successful transition to the front office. “It is still too early to make predictions that far ahead, a lot can happen,” he emphasizes. “When you are close to the game, you tend to be cautious.”
And does he have a message for the folks back in Boston? Bill replies, “First I want to thank Theo Epstein and everyone in the Red Sox organization for taking a chance on me and for the way they treated me. Our time in Boston was a terrific experience for our family.
“And I can tell you that the Boston fans really help Red Sox players. As a player, you bring intensity to every game, but the Boston fans help you to maintain your intensity at a very high level. They are great fans.”
Bill Mueller will always be welcomed back to Fenway Park.
RED SOX PLAYERS
HOME RUNS BOTH SIDES OF PLATE
August 20, 1967
August 11, 1968 vs. Tigers
July 2, 1972 vs. Brewers
April 16, 1973 vs. Tigers
July 28, 1995 vs. Rangers
April 11, 2000 vs. Twins
August 29, 2000 vs. Devil Rays
July 4, 2003 vs. Yankees
July 29, 2003 vs. Rangers