"The cartilage crumbled," he said. "I'll have to live with this the rest of my life."
Mueller's unfortunate demise can be particularly instructive now that the Dodgers are, according to Colletti, "close" to giving a guaranteed multiyear contract to another player with a history of injuries -- Nomar Garciaparra -- who will return as the first baseman.
"You rarely have a perfect scenario," said Colletti. "You take everything into consideration. No matter who it is, you take a chance with a guaranteed contract. With Nomar, you know how hard he works, how much he cares. If he gets hurt, it's not for lack of effort. It's because he's doing everything he can to win a game.
"Almost the best guarantee is how somebody takes care of himself. You don't have to have an injury history to get injured. You need players. If you wait for somebody who's never been hurt, I don't know when you'd put your team together."
Which brings the discussion back to Mueller. Colletti knew about his injury history, but felt he was worth the risk because of the way Mueller played the game and the kind of man he is. As it turned out, Mueller played in only 32 games for the Dodgers, batting .252 with three homers and 15 RBIs, and never returned to the field after the surgery. A former batting champion and Silver Slugger Award winner in 2003, he was a member of the 2004 world championship Boston Red Sox.
"I feel at peace with the playing part," he said. "There will be times I'll want to be back out there. But I've come to the realization and I'm happy to get on with the next chapter, I guess."
Colletti told stories Friday about Mueller's passion and desire for the game. He said Mueller disproved doubters to last 11 years in the Major Leagues, but felt he had to apologize to Colletti this summer for letting the Dodgers down because he could no longer play.
"It was striking to me, because a lot of guys get hurt, but some don't feel bad at all," Colletti said. "He said it was breaking his heart that he couldn't play. He said he loves to play the game, and he was in tears and I was in tears. You don't hear that often."
Colletti said he encouraged Mueller to frequent the clubhouse despite his disability because his leadership was welcome. The two began talking about a post-playing career over the summer, but Mueller preferred a front-office role to a Minor League coach or manager position.
"He's a very smart guy," Colletti said. "If he attacks this the way he did his playing career, he could be very special in the executive ranks or in a managing position."
Mueller, 35, played two previous seasons under Dodgers manager Grady Little while both were in Boston, and last year marked his third stint with Colletti, the first two coming when Colletti was the assistant general manager in San Francisco. Colletti was in that role when the Giants drafted Mueller out of Southwest Missouri State University in 1993.
Mueller said his job description is "a work in progress," but Colletti said it will include scouting, player evaluation, the draft and "being a sounding board for me." Mueller said he will be allowed to live in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his family and shuttle to Los Angeles, where he keeps an apartment.
He said he will offer his opinion on matters such as signing multiyear deals with injury-prone players.
"It's something we'll talk about," he said. "I'll give him my knowledge of what I've gone through and hope that helps. I'll give him my honest opinion on every subject. Ned is someone I trust and know and, most important, respect. This is a wonderful opportunity to listen and get tutored in all aspects of the front office. It's such a great fit. I'll embrace it and see where it takes me."
Colletti made the announcement the day after returning from the General Managers Meetings in Florida, where he said agents for free agents are expecting "big raises, long-term, big-dollar contracts, whether they've had mediocre or stellar careers or, in some cases, hardly any career. They are anxious to see what they can get, but not anxious to make a deal."
He said he expects the trade market to open up once a few big free agents are signed.