Wednesday in Missouri, Don "Mandrake the Magician" died. He was 84.
Mueller, who spent most of his career with the New York Giants, is best known for his role in the most famous game in baseball history: the third game of the 1951 pennant playoff between the Dodgers and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Entering the bottom of the ninth at the Polo Grounds, the Giants trailed 4-1.
We'll let the New York Times' Richard Goldstein pick up the action from there:
Alvin Dark led off by singling against Don Newcombe. When the left-handed-batting Mueller came to the plate, Gil Hodges, the Dodgers first baseman, stood close to the bag. Mueller took notice.
“I saw that hole sittin’ there like a deer in huntin’ season,” he was quoted by Thomas Kiernan in the book “Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff.”
“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 drove a fastball to Hodges’s right, just beyond his reach. In keeping with his nickname, taken from the comic-strip magician created by Lee Falk in the 1930s, his single into the hole sent Dark to third base.
Moments later, Whitey Lockman rapped a double to plate Dark and send Lockman to third. But the latter slid awkwardly into the base, sore ankle ligaments, and was in the clubhouse on a training table when Bobby Thomson hit The Shot Heard 'Round the World.
Earlier that season, Mueller -- generally a singles hitter by trade -- had walloped five home runs in two days, tying a major-league record. He bounced back from the ankle injury in 1952, but enjoyed his best season in '54, batting .342 and leading the National League with 212 hits. He'd missed the '51 World Series, but in '54 he rapped seven singles in the Giants' four-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians.
Oh. The strikeouts. Can't write about Don Mueller without mentioning the strikeouts.
He never struck out. Or for that matter, walked. For every 162 games, Mueller struck out 19 times and drew 22 walks. Among the 827 players with at least 4,000 plate appearances since World War II, Mueller's his walk rate is the seventh lowest.
Oh, but that's nothing. His strikeout rate is the third lowest.
The guys with lower walk rates have higher strikeout rates. The guys with lower strikeout rates have higher walk rates. The truth is that Don Mueller wasn't a particularly productive hitter. But there wasn't anybody else quite like him.