Billy Ballgame calls it a career

Figured I could take a break from all the Matsuzaka mania for a moment and acknowledge one of my all-time favorite Red Sox players — Bill Mueller, a.k.a. Billy Ballgame as Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek used to call him.

As many of you might have heard right now, Mueller was forced into retirement at the age of 35 on Friday because of  right knee cartilage that, in his words, was "Crumbled. I’ll have to live with this the rest of my life."

Mueller finished with the Dodgers, not the Red Sox, playing 32 games last year with the Dodgers for former manager Grady Little and alongside other Sox like Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe. He’ll now go to the front office of the Dodgers, serving, as my esteemed colleague Ken Gurnick put it, "the highest paid special assistant to the general manager" in team history. Mueller is still on the books for $4 million next season.

Though he played a mere three years in Boston, this guy is going to go down as  a Red Sox player through and through.

For many of the reasons Dan Shaughnessy chronicled last year in one of his most underrated columns ever http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2005/12/16/mueller_leaves_an_enduring_mark_with_sox/
you had to like Bill Mueller.

Watching him from the press box for three years, I can’t recall a single mental mistake that Bill Mueller ever made on the baseball field — on offense or defense. How many players can you say that about?

Also, I’m scratching my brain trying to remember if Mueller ever exited a game with a clean uniform. I don’t believe he did. Mueller didn’t say much to the media, he was never about the glamour. But he did always like to say that he took pride in playing a certain part of his anatomy off.

Perhaps Mueller’s knees gave out so soon because he had to push so hard to make it as a solid everyday player with such an underwhelming physique.

Remember when he came aboard in 2003 as Shea Hillenbrand’s backup and many of us wondered why Theo made that move when he already had a good third baseman? You looked at Mueller’s career numbers and didn’t see much of anything special.

Then you watched him play, and felt it was a complete no-brainer when Theo traded Hillenbrand to the Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim at the end of May of 2003.

That trade was a master stroke for Epstein for two reasons. It made Mueller an everyday player and it made David Ortiz an everyday player. Both players took it to another level from that day forward.

Bill Mueller won a batting title that first year in Boston, making Major League history by becoming the first player to hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in Texas. I covered that game, and was actually on a conference call with Theo Epstein when the second granny left the yard. Epstein was announcing the trade for Scott Williamson from Boston and watching the game on TV. When the ball soared toward the wall, Epstein took a brief break from his evaluation of Williamson and yelled, "get out, get out."

That will go down as the most spectacular individual night of Bill Mueller’s career. But there are a couple of other moments that Red Sox fans will hold closer to their hearts.

The first was July 24, 2004. The Red Sox, their playoff hopes fading, had spent the day in a knockdown, dragout fight with the Yankees, both literally (A-Rod and Varitek) and figuratively (a roller coaster game). Mueller stepped to the plate with one out and one on in the bottom of the ninth and the Sox down by a run at 10-9. Mariano Rivera was on the mound, and up to that point, was considered all but invincible in the minds of the Red Sox and their fans. But one easy swing by Bill Mueller sent the ball into the bullpen for a two-run, walkoff homer. Euphoria all around Fenway.

Usually the press box doesn’t make a sound in moments like this. But I distinctly remember that when Mueller’s ball left the yard, there was a loud noise — I don’t even know how to describe it. It was almost like a noise of disbelief of the moment and the game that everyone had just seen.

As you may remember, it wasn’t the last time Bill Mueller would get Mariano Rivera in 2004. Game 4 of the ALCS. The Red Sox were three outs from extinction, three outs from getting swept. Millar led off with a walk. Dave Roberts got up off the bench and pinch-ran and produced the most electrifying steal in Red Sox history, perhaps in baseball history. But it wouldn’t have mattered if someone didn’t  come up with a big hit.

That someone was Bill Mueller. He bashed a single through the box that Rivera tried to make a kick save on, but to no avail. Tie ballgame. At least until David Ortiz hit that walkoff against Quantrill in the 12th. It’s funny that you always hear about the Roberts steal and the Ortiz homer, but not as much about the Bill Mueller single which was every bit as vital to the survival that night which eventually led to a World Championship.

That was Bill Mueller. He didn’t want to be noticed. He just wanted to do his job. And he did that job  with uncanny execution until his body simply wouldn’t let him anymore.

28 Comments

Via Con Dios, Bill Mueller, you’re a special guy. Anyone who plays through injury, pain, fatigue, illness is special to me. And Bill did it without pride. Hats off to you!

Thanks, Ian, for such a great tribute to Billy Ballgame. I will always remember his vital role in game 4 of the ALCS…he was and always will be a quiet hero in all our hearts for many, many years to come. Here’s hoping he enjoys his next phase in professional baseball. Thanks for the memories, Bill Mueller!

I still get a thrill whenever I think of that look on Rivera’s face. Lets hope his retirement is all that he wants it to be.

Great minds think alike, I had the same three moments (last post on the previous one). Apart from the great individual moments, I think I’d just remember him as a player who gave his all, all the time

“That was Bill Mueller. He didn’t want to be noticed. He just wanted to do his job. And he did that job with uncanny execution until his body simply wouldn’t let him anymore.”

Brilliant writing there. Sums Billy up perfectly.

Tim

http://www.redsoxtimes.com

I’ll always remember Billy Mueller as a doubles machine and the guy with the dirty uniform. He was a true professional who respected the game and played hard every day.

Thanks, Billy. You were a baseball player.

sounds like loretta now.

I remember how I felt when Billy left the Sox… SAD. He’s another of the dirtdawg crew. Just a guy going out, doing what he loved, day in, day out. Not for the recognition, or for the glory, or the media coverage, but for the pure love of the game and the fans who love him. All the best to you Billy Ballgame!! You’ll always be a RedSox in My Heart!!!
ps Kaylee, if it sounds like anyone, Does the name Trot mean anything there???

ps.. and I DO remember the day he hit the grand slams in Texas and the HR the day Varitek and Arod got into it, and the HR into the bullpen to breathe more life into our Beloved Sox in 2004, OUR YEAR. THANK YOU BILL MUELLER, FOR ALL YOU GAVE TO THE SOX AND TO THE SOX FANS!!! Baseball loses a great individual from the game today.

just in case anyone forgot about soriano, its being reported that he has signs an 8 year deal worth up to $136 million with the cubbies

is that 136 million or 13.6 million???

$136 total over 8 years

Now that Alex Gonzales is gone, do you think Florida will give us Hanley Ramirez back for Josh Beckett? I looked at Ramirez’ stats again after he won the Rookie of the Year and this could end up in the Bagwell/Anderson file if Beckett doesn’t step it up soon. Throw in Bard/Meredith/Mirabelli and Theo better make sure his thinking cap is on this year.

the most significant thing about Soriano signing is that it’s going to open up the market for Manny. I firmly believe that Manny is going to get dealt this time. It is my belief that the FO, the manager and his teammates have had enough after he basically quit on the team for the final six weeks of last season.

With that groundless extension you signed beckett for, florida could never even afford to get beckett back, and they’re not going to trade a ROY to get him either. I also think manny will be traded and I’m guessing to the angels, I really have no idea what you would get back besides shields whom the sox have coveted for years.

Let me rephrase, I know you will get more than shields, I just don’t know who else, it appears you don’t need one of the young stud starters, unless wakefield is moving to long relief and tavarez is going back to his normal job of *******.

Bill Mueller was not the most gifted ball player to don a uniform. In fact, his skills were probably slightly above average. What made him a good ballplayer was his attitude. He was ready for every play, for every pitch, and for every situation. He thought baseball all the time, and never got caught on his heels. He played every game like it was his last. Give me nine guys like him, and we may not win a lot of championships, but everyone we play will know they have been in a game, and it will be fun to watch. Thanks Bill, for playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.

Don’t give up on Josh Beckett. He’s still just a kid and he’s got a great arm, and great stuff. He didn’t have a good year last year, but still won 16 games. He gets rid of some walks and some gopher balls, and he’s going to be very tough. .245 BA against him, isn’t bad.

normal job of *******…lol, good one. hate to see manny go, but it seems like it just might happen. will he ever be happy anywhere? seems to me that the angels have a big market too, although i guess they aren’t front and center out there. Dont like the thought of jd drew, hope that willie mo can protect papi like manny did, does….would also rather see loretta at second. The rocket would be great to see, but id rather see him start and add to his win totals. Gagne, would be exciting to see for sure. Should be interesting in the up coming weeks.

Rayman, don’t give up on Beckett just yet. He’s 26, and he has dominating stuff. He’ll be fine in 2007. You have to give up something to get something. The Beckett and Lowell deal was a good one for the Sox. Sure, it would be nice to have Hanley. It would be nice to have Freddy Sanchez and David Eckstein as well. The past is the past. Pedroia is a good prospect, and Lugo would be an exceptional signing. Beckett, in my opinion, will be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter for the duration of his contract in Boston, and beyond.

Vince, Manny would definitely fetch a package like Shields, one of the infield prospects (Webb, Aybar or Kendrick) and either Figgins or a starter (like Santana or Saunders). This is Manny, after all. He’s arguably the best all-around hitter in the game, and that is what the Angels need. I, for one, hope they don’t deal him now, unless they can pry away Teixiera from Texas.

By the way, Tavarez only ****** last season, as a reliever. Over his career, he has been an effective reliever. Perhaps the confidence he gained as a starter late in the season will help him regain his form in the bullpen next season.

The day I heard Bill Mueller was going to the Dodgers was the day I started paying attention to how the Dodgers were doing. He was a great ballplayer to watch. While some may say he was not a great player, I think his defensive skills may be somewhat underappreciated because he made a lot of difficult plays look easier than they really were. I’ll miss watching him play.

Jeff, Tavarez has never been a pressure pitcher (much like farnsworth), he crumbled in the playoffs on a few occasions, which leads me to believe he will never be the same pitcher in the American League East, in Boston. Maybe as a starter he feels less pressure since his performance is spread amongst numerous innings instead of one or two.

Manny may be manny but he is also 34 and playing left field in anaheim is not playing left field in a 200 foot Fenway park. If the angels gave up all of that to get him and take on all of his 21 million dollars per year it would be like us signing Giambi. I can see Santana/saunders/weaver (one of them) and figgins, but I doubt you get a high prospect for the third player. Figgins is an emerging superstar that can play everywhere, and any of those three pitchers have a bright, bright future (I have a personal dislike for saunders), add their best bullpen man, who is durable and completely healthy and that is a ripoff with manny’s bat or not.

Plus in a relaxed atmosphere like Southern California, Manny might go completely brain dead and start ramming into walls for no particular reason and hurt himself with the same major major knee injury that kept him out for 6 weeks last season

Glad to see Jeter didn’t win the MVP. However, I still think Ortiz got robbed. Ryan Howard won it by putting up huge numbers in a tiny ballpark playing for a .500 team. Ortiz hit 32 road homers this year, showing that Fenway robs him over even bigger power numbers. Looks like Papi will need to hit 60-65 homers on a division winner to take home the MVP some day.

lol howard brought a team that supposedly gave up at the trade deadline and got them within a game of the playoffs. Ortiz took a team that was predicted by many to win the al east, and at the asb everybody had them winning the division, and they ended up in 3rd place.

Ortiz, the clutchest hitter on the face of the earth, batted 100 pts less than Jeter with RISP. The MVP does not equal hr/rbi. It helps, but that is not solely the statistic. And this is coming from a Yankee fan that at the all star break had ortiz as the MVP. “If I did it”?

1. Jeter

2. morneau

3. ortiz

4. mauer

5. dye

6. santana

That is all that deserves votes. Manny taking a 6 week vacation is undeserving of any value.

“Plus in a relaxed atmosphere like Southern California, Manny might go completely brain dead and start ramming into walls for no particular reason and hurt himself…”

Now THAT’s funny!

Hats off to to Billy Ballgame. Underated is an understatment. The guy came to the park, did his job, fit in well, and executed defensive and offensive plays at such a consistant rate, I can’t think of any other infielder in Red Sox history that we can say that about. I’ll never forget that July night against perhaps the toughest closer in baseball history, and I won’t forget that single that brought home Dave Roberts in October 04.

Hats off to to Billy Ballgame. Underated is an understatment. The guy came to the park, did his job, fit in well, and executed defensive and offensive plays at such a consistant rate, I can’t think of any other infielder in Red Sox history that we can say that about. I’ll never forget that July night against perhaps the toughest closer in baseball history, and I won’t forget that single that brought home Dave Roberts in October 04.

Thank you Bill Mueller for playing the game the right way, always gving your all. I didn’t really know you that well before you joined the Red Sox, but after a short time, you became my favorite player. There is nothing average or above average about your game. Your play at third base was so underrated, you made some unbelievable plays, and got to almost every ball, and fielded it cleanly, uncanny reflexes, a true third baseman. You had a rocket of an arm…As for your hitting, truly workmanlike, great contact hitter and clutch hitter. You could always be counted on for quality at-bats no matter what situation, excellent switch hitter. In the tough situations, you never had fear in your eyes..Let me repeat as most have already done, you BROKE RIVERA. After that July homerun, Rivera has never been the same. This was so huge, you showed the Sox that it can be done against the greatest closer in history. Without you, the Red Sox would not have accomplished as much as they did from 03-05. What is most telling is the respect that all your teammates gave you. In this era of me-first athletes, you truly were a team player. No matter how your career ended, your Red Sox for life. Greatest third baseman in team history (sorry Boggs), What a career! #11 was a class act.

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