Don Mueller career highlights

Last week former New York Giants outfielder Don Mueller died at age 84.

His playing days predate a large majority of our readership at THT, but he had a nice career for himself, almost entirely with the New York Giants. The right fielder was a career .296 hitter, albeit without tremendous power or many walks.

In fact, he was the consummate contact hitter. He was so good at poking balls through holes he earned the nickname “Mandrake the Magician.” In 4,594 career plate appearances, he had only 167 walks and 146 strikeouts. That’s 313 walks plus strikeouts in a full 12-year career. Adam Dunn had 306 walks and strikeouts in the 2006 season alone.

Others can eulogize the man better than I can. Here, I’ll just review his career highlights. The list below contains his personal bests (or worst) performances, the greatest and most important games he took part in, and some of the oddities he was on hand for, as well as great moments by others. I’ve done this before for other recently departed baseball players.

So here it goes:

New York Giants tenure

Aug. 2, 1948: Don Mueller makes his major league debut. It doesn’t come under the most pleasant of circumstances. He pinch hits for a pitcher in the bottom of the fourth with the Giants already trailing 9-1. He drives home a run with a single, but St. Louis scores eight more runs in the top of the fifth en route to a 21-5 beat-down of the Giants. It’s the most lopsided loss of Mueller’s big league career.

Aug. 15, 1948: It’s the only known time that corner outfielder Mueller plays in center. It’s an interesting game. Starting center fielder Whitey Lockman breaks up a no-hitter in the seventh inning with a triple and then scores. Shortly after that, Mueller takes his place in the game, which New York loses, 8-1. Lockman plays later that day in the second half of a doubleheader, so taking him out was more a reward than a sign he was injured.

Aug. 25, 1948: Mueller bashes his first career home run. It’s a pinch-hit homer, one of three such shots he’ll hit in his career. It’s a three-run shot as he pinch hits for Bobby Thomson. The Giants top the Cubs, 9-4.

Sept. 9, 1948: Rex Barney, pitcher for the archrival Dodgers, no-hits the Giants for a 2-0 win. Mueller is 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

July 8, 1949: From a sociological point of view, this is the most important game of Mueller’s career. The Giants start Hank Thompson at second base, integrating the team for the first time. Later that day, Thompson’s fellow former Negro Leaguer Monte Irvin draws a walk in a pinch-hit attempt. Mueller also comes up as a pinch hitter, but makes an out.

Aug. 5, 1950: Giants pitcher Jim Hearn records 27 outs without allowing a hit. Unfortunately those 27 outs come after allowing a leadoff single in the first. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Bob Dillinger gets a hit to begin the game and that’s the only hit Hearn surrenders in his 5-0 shutout. Mueller is New York’s offensive hero, as he goes 3-for-4 with two runs, a double, and an RBI.

Aug. 16, 1950: Mueller hits his first career grand slam. It comes off Brooklyn’s Dan Bankhead who three years earlier made history as baseball’s first black pitcher. Also in this game, Mueller’s teammate Hank Thompson hits two inside the park home runs. Mueller scores on the first one, and the second comes immediately after Mueller’s grand slam. New York wins easily, 16-7.

Aug. 17, 1950: One day after hitting his first slam, Mueller suffers through his worst WPA game. He goes 0-for-4 with WPA of –0.409 as the Dodgers top the Giants, 8-6. The first pitch Muller sees on the day punks him, in possible retaliation for yesterday’s game. Three times he comes to the plate with a runner on third, and he never advances the runner. Most notably, he hits into a bases-loaded double play in the eighth, ending the inning.

Sept. 13, 1950: New York’s star pitcher Sal Maglie has an amazing streak come to an end. In the top of the seventh against Pittsburgh, Gary Bell blasts a home run off Maglie, ending a 43-inning scoreless streak that dates back to Aug. 16. Mueller is stationed in right in the Polo Grounds when the ball clears the fence.

April. 30, 1951: For the only time in his career, Mueller draws a bases loaded RBI-walk. Earl Mossor of the Dodgers is the pitcher and it occurs in the first inning with only one out. New York wins, 8-5.

May 17, 1951: Mueller hits the only inside the park home run of his career. It comes off Pittsburgh’s Murry Dickson in the sixth inning of a contest the Giants lose, 12-7. In all, Mueller is 3-for-4 with a walk and strikeout. It’s one of only 18 games in his career he walks and strikes out.

May 25, 1951: Willie Mays makes his big league debut. To make room for him in center, the Giants shift Bobby Thomson from center to left, put left fielder Monte Irvin in right, and leave the left fielder on the bench. Mueller is that left fielder. He appears as a pinch hitter later in the game.

July 4, 1951: The Giants and Dodgers square off on a holiday doubleheader and Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen gets ejected from both games. I guess he’s trying to fire up his team, which is swept on the day, but he needn’t worry. Even with the sweep at the hands of their archrival, the Dodgers still lead New York by six games in the playoff race.

Aug. 9, 1951: It’s an ugly game as the Giants and Dodgers combine for 24 walks. The Dodgers win 6-5 despite issuing 15 of those free passes. Every member of the Giants starting lineup draws a base on balls—except the walk-phobic Mueller, who is 0-for-5. With this win, the Dodgers now lead the Giants by 12.5 games. Man, is this pennant race over or what?

Aug. 11, 1951: Mueller goes 1-for-4 but Robin Roberts and the defending NL champion Phillies blank the Giants, 4-0. New York is now 13.5 games behind Brooklyn, the Giants’ worst deficit of the year. Though they lost today, the Giants won’t lose again for quite some time.

Aug. 27, 1951: New York sweeps a doubleheader from the Cubs, giving it 16 consecutive wins. The Giants will lose the next day, but the winning steak has breathed new life into them. Mueller played in every inning of the winning streak, and went 2-for-9 today with one of his 19 walks on the season.

Sept. 2, 1951: Mueller has by far the greatest game of his life—and the second greatest game, too. In a doubleheader against those darn Dodgers, Mueller belts five home runs and drives in 10 runs. Behind Mueller’s big bat, New York sweeps the Dodgers 8-1 and 11-2 to pull within five games of Brooklyn with a month to play. He drives in five runs in each game. In the rest of his games, he never does better than that and equals it once.

Mueller’s performance on this day becomes even more interesting when, over a half century later, it’s revealed that the 1951 Giants had an elaborate sign-stealing mechanism in place that helped them in the pennant race. This game takes part in the pennant race at home and Mueller undoubtedly received tip-offs. In the other 1,243 games of his career, he’ll have just one other multi-home run game.

Sept. 13, 1951: The Giants play in a doubleheader. Sort of. Well, they play one game and their opponent plays two. On this day, St. Louis becomes the first team of the 20th century to play two opposing clubs in one day in an atypical doubleheader. Mueller goes 2-for-4 with a double and a run as St. Louis beats New York 6-4 before losing 2-0 to the Braves.

Sept. 30, 1951: The Giants win, which along with a Dodger win later in the day means the regular season ends in a tie, causing a best-of-three games playoff to take place. In this 3-2 win over Boston, Mueller singles home the go-ahead run in the third inning.

Oct. 3, 1951: It might be the most famous game in baseball history and Mueller helps kick off its most famous inning. The Giants and Dodgers split the first two games of the playoff, and in this winner-take-all contest, Brooklyn takes a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. After Alvin Dark leads off with an infield single, Mueller comes to the plate. So far Mueller is 1-for-12 in the series, but he laces a single out to bring the tying run to the plate.

When Lockman doubles a few minutes later, Mueller breaks his ankle sliding into third. Thus pinch runner Clint Hartung scores a little bit later when Bobby Thomson homers to win the pennant for the Giants. Mueller will not, obviously, play in the World Series, which the Giants lose in six games to the Yankees.

July 1, 1952: Braves batter Earl Torgeson does something rather stupid in this game. He tries to attack Giants catcher Sal Yvars in the Giants’ dugout. Yeah, that doesn’t sound too well thought out. Mueller goes 0-for-5 with a K as the Giants win 6-3.

Sept. 10, 1952: Mueller hits the only walk-off home run of his career. He belts a solo shot in the bottom of the 12th inning off of Murry Dickson (the same guy he hit his only inside-the-park homer against) for a 3-2 win. As a bonus, this comes two days after Mueller belted a walk-off double for another 3-2 Giants win. In between those games, Mueller hit one of his only two career leadoff home runs. Nice little streak.

Sept. 6, 1953: Dodgers right fielder Carl Furillo gets hit by a pitch, and is sure it’s intentional. Rather than charge the pitcher, though, he takes aim at the man who told the pitcher what to do. Furillo goes after Giants skipper Leo Durocher in the dugout. Mueller watches from right field as his teammates beat up Furillo. Getting into fights against the Giants was the popular thing to do in the early 1950s.

May 2, 1954: Mueller enjoys one of the greatest games of his career. It’s the only time he goes 5-for-5, as he collects a double, a triple, and three singles against St. Louis. He also drives in two runs and scores three times as New York tops the Cardinals, 9-7. In New York’s eight-run fourth inning, Mueller has a triple and a single, scores twice, and drives in both of his runs.

July 11, 1954: In the first game of the doubleheader versus the Pirates, Mueller hits for the cycle. He doubles, triples, singles, and saves the home run for last as New York rolls to a 13-7 win.

July 14, 1954: Mueller is selected to his first All-Star team and gets in the action. He pinch hits for starting pitcher Robin Roberts in the top of the fourth and smacks an RBI double as the NL tops the AL, 11-9.

July 17, 1954: They don’t come much wilder than this. New York takes a seemingly insurmountable 9-0 lead on St. Louis, but danged if the Cardinals don’t rally. They tie the game 9-9, sending it into extra innings. New York manages to win anyway, thanks to an RBI sacrifice fly in the 11th inning by Mueller. He ends the day 2-for-5 with two runs, three RBIs, and a double.

Sept. 18, 1954: Mueller achieves one of his most impressive milestones. With a three-hit performance in today’s game, he ends the day with precisely 200 hits. It’s the only time he ever hits the big round number. He ends the season with a league-leading 212 hits, the only time he leads the league in any category. His 200th hit is a single, but in his first at-bat of the day he belts a home run.

Sept. 22, 1954: The Giants are on the receiving end of one of the greatest pitching debuts in history. Brooklyn’s Karl Spooner pitches a three-hit complete game shutout with a debut record 15 strikeouts. Mueller, as is his nature, doesn’t strike out in two at-bats. Then again, the Giants take him out of the game in the third inning and his replacement, Bill Taylor, fans twice. Mueller also misses the next game so he probably dinged himself here.

As for Spooner, he’ll fan 12 batters in his next start, also a complete game shutout, but then win only eight more games in his career.

Sept. 26, 1954: It’s the last game of the season and Mueller is dueling for the batting title with star teammate Willie Mays. When the sun rises, Mueller has a narrow lead, .343 to Mays’ .342. Mueller goes 2-for-6 on the day, and most times that would be enough—but Mays bats 3-for-4. Mays wins the battle for the batting title: .345 to .342.

Sept. 29, 1954: World Series Game One: Unlike 1951, Mueller plays in every game in this one. Game One is a classic as Mays makes his famous catch of a Vic Wertz deep fly to deep center. The game also has a great ending as Dusty Rhodes hits a three-run walk-off home run in the 10th inning for a 5-2 Giants win. Mueller led off that 10th inning with a strikeout, his only one of the World Series.

Mueller’s contribution came earlier as in the third inning he drove in the team’s first run and then a little later scored its second. That was all of New York’s offense until Rhodes’ blast.

Sept. 30, 1954: World Series Game Two: New York beats the highly favored Indians (who went 111-43 in the regular season) again, this time by a score of 3-1. Mueller goes 0-for-4.

Oct. 1, 1954: World Series Game Three: The Giants are on the verge of a major postseason upset after their 6-2 win puts them just a game away from the team’s first world title in 21 years. Mueller scores the team’s first run in the game, and then scores a few innings later as an insurance run. He gets two singles in five at bats on the day.

Oct. 2, 1954: World Series Game Four: Incredibly, the 97-57 Giants not only defeat the mighty 111-43 Indians, but they sweep them in four games. New York takes the early lead here and cruises to a 7-4 victory. Mueller goes 3-for-4 with three singles and a sacrifice hit. Mueller scores in the fifth inning off an aging Hal Newhouser on Monte Irvin’s single.

May 15, 1955: Mueller gets a hit in his 24th consecutive game, the longest streak of his career. He’s 44-for-102 with only seven extra base hits and two walks in the span (as well as just a pair of strikeouts). His line in this streak: .431/.438/.520. That’s Mueller at his most Mueller.

July 12, 1955: Selected to his second straight All-Star team, Mueller has the honor of starting for the Senior Circuit in right field. He goes 1-for-2 before getting lifted for his backup—Milwaukee’s Hank Aaron.

Sept. 25, 1955: The Giants’ season closes in a bizarre and unlikely manner. Trailing Philadelphia 3-1 in the season finale, the Giants hit into a game-ending and season-finishing triple play in the bottom of the ninth. Second baseman Bobby Hofman hits into it. As for Mueller, he is 0-for-1 and Durocher pulls him after two innings. This games turns out to be the last Durocher will manager for the Giants.

May 2, 1956: The Cubs and Giants square off in an incredible marathon. They play 17 innings, setting a record by using 48 players along the way. Mueller is one of those players as he goes 0-for-2 as a late game replacement. The game also features a record 11 intentional walks. Chicago’s Don Hoak sets an unwanted record by fanning six times. Each strikeout comes against a different pitcher, a seemingly unbreakable record. The Giants win, 6-5.

May 12, 1956: Brooklyn’s Carl Erskine no-hits the Giants in a 3-0 win. He surrenders just two walks, a first inning one to Willie Mays and another to Alvin Dark later in the contest. Mueller appears as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and lines out to Pee Wee Reese at shortstop.

June 16, 1957: According to WPA, this is Mueller’s greatest game (since at least 1950, when we have WPA info). The day consists of exactly one plate appearance, a pinch-hit home run that drives in three runs for New York in their 4-3 win over the Reds. WPA on the day (and blast): 0.613.

Aug. 17, 1957: Of all the sports incidents that involve sending an elderly grandmother to the hospital, today’s Phillies-Giants game as the most humorous one. Star Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn fouls one into the stands nd it hits an old woman in the face. She wasn’t watching the ball because she was adjusting the hat on her young grandson. As she’s taken away on a stretcher, the game resumes. Ashburn fouls another one off—and it hits the same dear sweet lady.

Ashburn is horrified, of course, and he later gives the grandkids a tour of the clubhouse and a ball autographed by the entire team—the works. The kids are so happy they ask their grandmother if she can take them to an Eagles game and get hit by a football.

Oh, and Mueller? He’s 2-for-4 with a pair of singles as the Giants lose, 3-1.

Aug. 25, 1957: Mueller belts a pair of home runs in one game, the only time aside from that 1951 doubleheader he does that. As it happens, he’ll never homer again in the big leagues. The Giants stomp the Reds, 10-1.

Sept. 29, 1957: This is it. The San Francisco-bound Giants complete their 76th and final season as a New York franchise. Fittingly, it at least ends as with home game. The Giants get killed by Pittsburgh, 9-1. Mueller becomes the answer to a trivia question by scoring that last Giants run. It comes in the first inning on an odd double play. With Mueller on third and Mays on first, Rhodes flies to center. Mueller beats the throw to the plate but then Pittsburgh’s catcher fires to second to nail Mays off the bag.

Mueller also leads off the bottom of the ninth for New York, flying out. That turns out to be his last at bat as a Giant. He won’t join them in San Francisco next year. The Chicago White Sox purchase him in the offseason.

White Sox tenure

July 16, 1958: The Orioles outslug the White Sox thanks to an unlikely power hitter. Baltimore pitcher Jack Harshman belts a pair of homers and drives in four. In his day job Harshman pitches a complete game victory, topping Chicago 6-5. Mueller can’t compete with Harshman’s deeds, mustering just one single.

Sept. 4, 1958: Mueller gets his last career start and plays a full game for the last time. He is 0-for-3 with a walk. He’ll play the next day, but only twice more the rest of the season. He’ll have a handful of appearances in 1959, his final year.

May 2, 1959: Mueller plays in his final game, 11 days since his last appearance (in which he got his 1,292nd and final hit, Mueller flies out to right when pinch hitting for the pitcher.

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