Syl “Tuffy” Mueth, one of the most colorful characters for decades on the metro-east local baseball scene, died Wednesday at age 88.
Mueth managed the Millstadt VFW club in the Mon-Clair Baseball League for more than 50 years and is a member of the Mon-Clair League Hall of Fame. He also received the league’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mueth’s son, Joel Mueth, recalled a story from his father’s playing days about the pregame routine for home games with Tuffy Mueth and teammate Russell Baltz.
“They’d get up and on a Sunday morning before they’d play, then go out to Bill Seib’s farm and they would hook up a team of mules,” Joel Mueth said. “They’d bring the mules in and hook a mower up, mow the grass and then put the plow on and drag the diamond with the same mules.
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“Then they’d go home and, change into their uniform and play ball.”
Visitation is from 3-8 p.m. Friday at Leesman Funeral Home in Millstadt and 9-10 a.m. Saturday at St. James Catholic Church in Millstadt. A funeral mass is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. James.
He is survived by daughter Kim Klopmeyer, sons Joel Mueth and Steve Mueth and numerous grandchildren and relatives.
The historic baseball diamond in Millstadt bears the name Syl “Tuffy” Mueth Field, a fitting tribute to a man that spent so much time there through the years.
“He got a kick out of that when that happened and a lot of his old buddies came around for that,” Joel Mueth said.
They’d bring the mules in and hook a mower up, mow the grass and then put the plow on and drag the diamond with the same mules. Then they’d go home and, change into their uniform and play ball.
Joel Mueth on his father, Syl “Tuffy” Mueth
Joel Mueth said the nickname “Tuffy,” has a couple origins. One involved him being part of a 11-child family and his penchant for running around outside without shoes much of the time.
“Grandpa would say ‘That’s one tough kid,’” Joel Mueth said.
Another possibility involved Tuffy’s ability to handle himself well when an occasional fight broke out at a local dance or other function.
Former Belleville East and Belleville West baseball coach and current St. Louis Cardinals batting practice pitcher Dennis Schutzenhofer played for Mueth and Millstadt VFW from 1969 through 1987.
“They were some of the best summers of my life. I felt like I was a Millstadt citizen when I was out there and Tuffy was a big part of that,” Schutzenhofer said. “It was his passion and enthusiasm. He loved it. He put in so much time and made you feel so special on the field.”
Schutzenhofer said the family atmosphere surrounding the close-knit Millstadt teams was something he will never forget. There was also the running rivalry with the Waterloo Buds (now Millers) and a tight friendship that developed between Mueth and Valmeyer manager Dennis Pieper.
“There was no better place after the games, we’d go to the West End Tavern or have picnics,” Schutzenhofer said. “When you were part of the Millstadt baseball team, you were part of a family.”
Joel Mueth said to this day he can hardly go anywhere without running into someone that knew his father, whether they had played for him, played against him or just knew him from managing the team. His father began his coaching career as a player-manager in 1945.
“Whenever you run into those guys they always had stories about the old teams and players, “ said Joel Mueth, who played for his father throughout Khoury League and later for a few seasons in the Mon-Clair League. “They would always ask about dad all the time.”
It was his passion and enthusiasm. He loved it. He put in so much time and made you feel so special on the field.
Dennis Schutzenhofer on Syl “Tuffy” Mueth
Tuffy Mueth was a self-employed carpenter whose other loves were his family, baseball and fishing.
“Aside from baseball, that was his passion,” Joel Mueth said of his father’s fishing habit. “A lot of his friends were people he met through baseball and they’d tell him good spots to fish. He always called them ‘honey holes,’ private lakes where he’d go. He’d take guys with him here and there, but he’d keep it hush-hush.”
Schutzenhofer said figuring out Mueth’s signals wasn’t overly difficult.
“We had the same signals for 40 years,” Schutzenhofer said. “He’d use the box (pattern) on his chest for hit and run, steal, bunt and take. Wherever he started, that’s what the signal was. They were the same signals forever.”
Another interesting tale involving Mueth’s club was his friendship with a warden at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester that led to an annual baseball game between Millstadt and the inmates.
“We’d go down and play the prison team every year and that was a great experience for some of our young kids,” said Schutzenhofer, who recalled the inmates taking a liking to one of the Millstadt players with long hair they referred to as “Goldilocks. “There were guards with sniper rifles up in the towers and we were playing baseball in the prison yard down there.”