Belleville native Leslie "Les" Mueller Sr., 93, who pitched two years for the Detroit Tigers and helped them win a World Series in 1945, died Thursday at St. Paul's Home in Belleville.
"It's a sad day for our family and for the baseball community in the Belleville area," said his son Lynwood Mueller on behalf of the Mueller family. "Our dad was involved in baseball at many levels as a player, manager and team sponsor. Perhaps he was most proud of being one of the founders of the Citizens Park in Belleville, which is now the home of the Whitey Herzog baseball field. He had an impact on many players and fans in the area."
Mueller signed with the Detroit organization after graduating from Belleville Township High School. His baseball career was interrupted by military service during World War II. After his time in the Army, he pitched for the Tigers when they were the 1945 World Series Champions. He was also well known for pitching 19 2/3 innings in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics on July 21, 1945.
In a 2008 interview with the News-Democrat, Mueller said, "I was very fortunate. I got a World Series ring. There's a lot of fellows who play a long time and don't get a World Series."
The Tigers are participating in the 2012 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. The Giants won game one of the series Wednesday with a score of 8-3.
Mueller, whose best pitch was a fastball, never knew how hard he threw.
"I wish I knew," Mueller said in 2008. "But in those days, you didn't hear anything about how fast a guy was. I don't think they even had things that checked the speed."
Bill DeMestri, of Belleville, recalled playing baseball with Mueller when they were in high school. "He was a good hard thrower even as a young kid," DeMestri said of Mueller.
DeMestri said Mueller "never bragged about it -- the fact that he was a terrific baseball player. He wasn't the boisterous type at all."
DeMestri described Mueller as a "heck of a nice guy" who got along with everyone. "You couldn't help but like him," DeMestri said.
Later in life, DeMestri played golf with Mueller on the TNT (Tuesday and Thursday) Golf League. "He was a better baseball player than he was a golfer," DeMestri said. "He was all right. He could drive the ball a long distance. He loved golf a lot. It was one of his passions in addition to baseball."
After retiring from baseball, Mueller ran Mueller Furniture Store in Belleville with his brother Roland, with his late wife Peggy and then with his son Lynwood, who is the current owner with his son Mark.
"My boys were getting school age and I had the opportunity to go into the family furniture business, and that's what I did at that time," Mueller said in 2008. He retired in 1984.
Mueller was active in the community. He was a Belleville alderman and a council member of St. Paul United Church of Christ. He was also a member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni, the Moose and the Elks.
After his professional career in baseball, he pitched many years in the Mon-Clair League and was inducted into their Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Belleville News Democrat Hall of Fame as well as the Belleville West Wall of Fame.
He is survived by his wife, Ruth Brodnax Mueller of Elmer, La; his three sons, Leslie C. Mueller Jr., of LaGrand, Ore.; Roger Mueller, of Millstadt; and Lynwood Mueller, of Belleville; and their families.
Visitation for Mueller will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday at George Renner & Sons Funeral Home in Belleville. A private funeral service for family will be held Monday. Mueller will be buried at Walnut Hill Cemetery in Belleville.
"Dad loved baseball, especially pitching. Back in his era before the relief pitching specialist, the starting pitcher was expected to go nine innings or more," Lynwood Mueller said. "Dad always tried to go the distance. He lived more than nine full decades, because of the way he lived his life we believe he should be credited with a win."