In 1996 the San Francisco Giants called up infielder Bill Mueller. He played two games in April in Chicago and then didn't play in the majors again until July. He was up for three days in April while the Giants had a temporary shortage of infielders. Mueller was called up again after Robby Thompson got hurt again (although not enough to go on the disabled list). But Mueller was up in the big leagues to stay.
Mueller would play five seasons in San Francisco, get traded to the Cubs, then traded back to the Giants briefly and then move on to Boston as a free agent and now plays for the Dodgers.
When Mueller first came up and I saw him play, I was surprised to find out that his name was pronounced like it was spelled "Miller". I had excepted him to pronounce it a bit more Teutonic. More like "MULE-er" with the first syllable sounding like the farm animnal.
But Bill Mueller was "Miller". And sometime in 1996, I turned to my father and asked him, "How do you pronounce the last name M-u-e-l-l-e-r?" I was fully expecting to trick him on this.
Dad explained, "There was a whole family of Muellers in Clinton County [Illinois, where he grew up], they all said Miller."
And indeed my father was right. Bill Mueller was from the same part of the country (although he grew up on the St. Louis side of the Mississippi). Mueller himself has said that his family had anglicized the pronunciation of the name (although not the spelling) when they came to the U.S. Mueller never says when, but I'm guessing that World War I, when sauerkraut became "victory cabbage", was a precipitating event.
However, I still don't know why the family would worry so much about having a German name. After all, one of the muncipalities in Clinton County is called Germantown and it has a sign telling you that it's the home of the Spasfest. (Festival of Fun, literally.) Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst was born in Germantown. But who knows what sort of hostilities the original Muellers (Bill variety) felt when they came to the U.S. Then again, judging by this series of events in Montana may be indicative of problems that Germans faced in some parts of the U.S. during World War I.
So what's the point of all this rambling? Well, today would have been my father's 77th birthday. He passed away in 2002. He didn't get the chance to show off his keen insights into the pronunciation of the surname of the Dodgers third baseman. I hope, for my Dad's sake, that Bill Mueller gets a few hits tonight. I know it's strange to associate a loved one with something as esoteric as a pronunciation, but I thought I would avoid getting too maudlin here. Just a little tip of the hat to you, Dad.