Apr 13, 2015

1954 World Champion New York Giants Outfielder: Don Mueller (1948-1957)

Don Frederick Mueller was born April 14, 1927, at St. Louis, Missouri. The tall six foot outfielder was known as Mandrake the Magician because he always found a hole to hit into. His father Walter Mueller played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the twenties batting .275 with 2 HRs 10 doubles 7 triples & 49 RBIs while playing in 121 games over four seasons.

Don Mueller was signed by the New York Giants in 1944 and would play at AAA Jersey City for three seasons. In 1946 he batted .359 there playing in just 28 games. The next season he was between Jacksonville & Jersey City batting .347 proving he could hit. In 1948 he batted .328 in 99 games getting called up to the Giants that summer.

He made his debut in August 1948 when Leo Durocher had replaced Mel Ott as the clubs manager. Mueller hit got a base hit, driving in a run his first at bat against the St. Louis Cardinals as a pinch hitter. On the year he would hit .358 (29-81) playing in 36 games making a good impression. He made the Giants team the next season but was only hitting .232 & struggling in August. He was sent down to finish out the year back at Jersey City to work on his skills.

1950 would be his official rookie season & he would bat .291 with 7 HRs 15 doubles & 84 RBIs. Mueller was mainly a singles hitter, hitting 125 base hits that season (6th in the league). He would eventually lead the league in singles in both 1954 & 1955. He would become one of the most difficult men to strikeout during his playing days, never striking out more than 26 times in a season. He had the leagues best at bat per strike out ratio five times, every season from 1953 through 1956.

In 1951 he only struck out 13 times in 493 at bats, batting .277. In the Giants amazing pennant run that summer Mueller hit well. It began in June when he had an eighteen game hit streak, hitting safely in every game he played that month. He was not knon for his power but in July he hit five HRs in the first two weeks of the month, while driving in eight runs.

On September 1st, the Giants were still seven games back when the two teams faced off in the Polo Grounds. Mueller had a career day bashing three HRs, two of them off of Ralph Branca. He would drive in five runs that day in the Giants 8-1 victory. The next day Mueller hit two more HRs, the first a three run shot off Don Newcombe. The second a two run shot off Phil Haugstad whom he had homered off the day before as well. That day he had just recieved the news his wife Genevieve had given birth to their son.

The Dodger lead was now down to five games & throughout the month the two teams would battle ending up tied on the last day of the season forcing the classic three game playoff. In the month of September Mueller hit 6 HRs, drove in 22 runs & had ten multi hit games.

On the season he hit a career high 16 HRs, something team mate Sal Yvars credited to the Giants sign stealing in the Polo Grounds. Mueller hit ten doubles, with seven triples, scored 58 runs posting a .307 on base %.

Post Season: In Game #1 of the Playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mueller was hitless in the Brooklyn 3-1 win. In the Giants 10-0 Game 32 win he was 1-3 with a walk. In the final Game #3 Alvin Dark singled in the 9th inning. Mueller a left handed hitter, saw Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges was standing close to the bag. 

Mueller remembered: “I saw that hole sittin’ there like a deer in huntin’ season And I went for it. I was a hole hitter, always tried to hit the ball where the biggest hole was. If Hodges was playin’ off the bag, instead of tight behind Dark, I would’ve tried to go up the middle with the ball.”

Mueller singled putting runners on first & third while New York was still trailing 4-1. With one out, Whitey Lockman doubled, scoring a run and advancing Mueller to third. As he slid into third base Mueller broke his ankle and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. Bobby Thomson's was the next batter, and he hit his famous game-winning (shot heard round the world) HR that won the pennant.

Mueller did not play in the World Series because of the injury. His replacement had a horrible Series especially with runners in scoring position. Monte Irvin said years later the Giants would have won the 1951 Series had Mueller been in the lineup.

In 1952 he improved to a .281 average hitting 12 HRs, the last time he would hit double figures in that category. In 1953 Mueller had a huge year, batting .333 (5th in the league) with 160 hits. 12 doubles 6 HRs & 60 RBIs. Although he didn’t strike out much & was a good hitter, he didn’t walk much so he put up low on base percentages. That season he posted a .360 %.

In the Giants 1954 Championship season he had his best year, leading the league with 212 hits, and finishing second to teammate Willie Mays in the NL batting race hitting .342. He made his first All Star appearance, finished twelfth in the MVP voting and had career highs in doubles (35) runs scored (90) triples (8) & on base % (.363) He also had 71 RBIs with 4 HRs playing in all but one of the Giants 154 games.

During the year he had an early 15 game hit streak, then in the month of September he hit safely in all but two games, 22 of 24 games. He closed out the year hitting safely in 32 of 44 games. In the outfield he led all NL outfielders with 14 assists posting .979 fielding % which was second best in the league.

Post Season: In the 1954 Fall Classic Mueller hit .389 going 7 -18 scoring four runs in the Giants to sweep over the Cleveland Indians. In Game #1 at the Polo Grounds, he went 2 -5 scoring a run & driving in the Giants first run of the series. In Game #3 at Cleveland he went 2 - 5 and scored two more runs. In the fourth & final Game #4 he had his best day getting three hits & scoring another run.

In 1955 he made his second All Star appearance, coming in fifth in the league with 185 hits, batting .306 and driving in a career high 83 runs. He struck out just twelve times in 605 at bats, giving him the lowest strike out ration in the league for the third of four straight seasons, five times leading the league in that category overall. His seven sac flies were 8th best in the league.

He did not hit well after 1955 dropping to .269 in 1956 and then into the .250 area the next two years. In the outfield he led the league in fielding two more times (1956 & 1957) as well as having 13 more assists from the outfield in 1957. His contract was purchased by the White Sox in 1958 as the Giants left New York & he retired the next season at age 32.

In his 12 year career, he hit .296 lifetime, only striking out 146 times in 4,364 at bats. He had 1292 hits with hit 65 HRs 139 doubles 37 triples & drove in 520 runs while scoring 499 in 1245 games played. In the outfield he posted a .981 fielding % (63rd all time) with 69 assists.

Retirement: After baseball he was a building inspector for an insurance company. Mueller lived in Maryland Heights Missouri for many years before he had to enter a nursing home. He passed away in 2011 at age 84.

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