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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Random Cubs Third Baseman of the Day: Bill Mueller

Name: William (Bill) Richard Mueller
Ht: 5'11'' Wt: 175
Bats: Switch Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 2001-2002

Play a whole season for these bums? Yeah, right.

Bill Mueller, I must state, was not a "bad" third basemen. When one looks at his stats, you'll see a consistent hitter who posted solid batting averages and on-base percentages in most of his major league seasons. On defense no one would have nominated him for a Gold Glove, but no one would have considered him a liability, either. Of the 90 some chumps that filled the gap between Santo and Ramirez, Mueller was one of the better and more likeable players. So what was the reason he failed to stick in Chicago? Well, if you look, you'll see that in two seasons with the Cubs, Bill played in 173 games before being traded to the Giants for the last 23 games of the 2002 season. Now a major league season is 162 games long, counting out the 23 games he spent as a Giant in '02, that makes 301 games where he was on the Cubs roster in 2 seasons. Out of those 301 possible chances at playing, Bill played in just 57% of them. Now we like to make fun of Mark Prior for being an injury prone pussy. But let's say a "full season" for a starting pitcher is 30 starts. Now if Mark had made 30 starts all five years he was in a Cub uniform, that would be a 150 starts. He made a 106. That's still 70 %. Is that bad? Yes. But not Bill Mueller bad. Thank you Bill, for making MARK PRIOR look durable.

Bill was acquired from the San Fransisco Giants in a trade before the 2001 season in which the Cubs sent pitcher Tim Worrell the other way. Bill had hit at least .290 in four of the five previous seasons and during the 2000 season the different third basemen the Cubs had used combined to hit just .224 with a .302 OBP. Bill started the 2001 season hot, as did the rest of the Cubs, as the team that had gone 65-97 in 2000 managed to hold 1st place in the NL Central for most of April through August. Bill was hitting .317 with 5 homers, 16 RBIs, a .409 OBP, and a .508 slugging percentage through the team's first 35 games, as the Cubs surged out to a 21-14 start. In the Cubs 36th game of the season, however, disaster struck for Bill Mueller. While chasing a foul pop up at the world's largest toilet bowl (Busch Stadium) Mueller crashed his knee into metal plating on the wall of the seats near the third base line, and shattered his left knee cap. The injury would keep him out for 2 months. Mueller returned in August, but hit just .179 in his first month off the DL as the Cubs lost the grip on first place they had had since April and the team would miss the playoffs and finish the season in third place. Mueller's final line for 2001 was as follows:

70 games, .295 avg., 6 hrs, 23 RBIs, .403 OBP, .448 slugging percentage.

But hope was strong going into the 2002 season for Mueller in the Cubs. The team had orchestrated a fantastic 19 game swing in their second season under Manager Don Baylor, they had signed All Star left fielder Moises Alou to bat behind Sammy Sosa,they could expect a full season from their "great" first baseman Fred McGriff, and the pitching staff featured a healthy Kerry Wood, Jon Lieber coming off of a 20 win season, and new starting young pitcher Matt Clement and closer Antonio Alfonseca. Hopes were high for a healthy Bill Mueller and the Cubs in 2002.

Alas, it was not to be. Complications with his knee injury forced Mueller to have surgery in March of 2002, Alou would also begin the season hurt, Lieber would blow out his arm during the course of the season, and Cubs fans realized that Antonio Alfonseca just sucks. Mueller missed the first 29 games of the 2002 season, during which the Cubs went 11-18. The season wouldn't improve from there, as the Cubs finished with 67-95, fired Baylor mid-season, and traded Mueller back to the Giants during the season's last month as the Cubs decided to go with the younger and cheaper Mark Bellhorn at third base for 2003. Mueller's line for the Cubs in 2002 was as follows:

103 games, .266 avg., 7 hrs, 37 RBIs, .355 OBP, .402 slugging.

And thus ended the Cubs career of Bill Mueller: an injury riddled debacle. Fear not for Mueller, though, he recovered well enough to win a batting title with the Boston Red Sox in 2003 while posting career highs in hits, batting average, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, and total bases. Mueller followed up his 2003 season with the Red Sox by winning a World Series championship with them in 2004. After the Red Sox acquired Mike Lowell in a trade with the Marlins in the 2005 offseason, Mueller was made expendable and he signed with the Dodgers for 2006. Believe it or not, a knee injury cut Mueller's season short at 32 games, and he was forced to retire. He now works for the Dodger organization, and even served as their hitting coach in 2007.

Here's to Bill Mueller, likely the most fragile third baseman to appear on this list.

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