Not Just Any Bob Millerby Steve Treder
September 06, 2005
Keeping all the Bob Millers straight has never been a simple task. There have been four different Bob Millers who have played major league baseball, and to further complicate things:
a) All four were pitchers.
b) Three of the four were contemporaries, all pitching in the majors in the late 1950s.
We’ll focus today on just one of the Bob Millers, whose career was, I hope to be able to convey, highly extraordinary.
So, as the first order of business, let's make clear just which Bob Miller we’re talking about: this is the Miller who was originally a Gemeinweiser.
Robert Lane Gemeinweiser, to be precise, was born February 18, 1939 in St. Louis. As to why he changed his last name to “Miller,” I don’t know. I don’t speak German, but as far as I can tell, “gemein” means mean or nasty, and “weiser” means a wise man. So if indeed his name translated as “Bob Meannastywiseman,” it does seem clear that “Bob Miller” was a major improvement, even though it would make for confusion once he made the big leagues.
The newly dubbed Bob Miller was never a star, but he was a useful enough player to have a major league career that spanned 18 years, during which he played for 10 different teams (two of them twice). And in those years, as well as in the major league coaching career that followed it, Miller engaged in a remarkably diverse set of experiences. Not to cast any aspersions on Miller’s mental capacity—all indications are that he was a perfectly bright fellow—but he was something of the Forrest Gump of baseball, seeming to show up everywhere and to have a connection to just about everything.
Bob Miller played for two World Series champions, five pennant winners and four division champions. He also played for four last-place ball clubs that lost 100 or more games, including very possibly the worst team in modern major league history. He was a teammate of no fewer than 21 Hall of Famers, as well as an additional 131 All-Stars, from Aguirre to Zisk, from Walker Cooper (a 1942 All-Star) to Graig Nettles (a 1985 All-Star).
Miller was a teammate of Murry Dickson (who began his major league career in 1939), and a teammate of Rick Dempsey (who ended his major league career in 1992). He was a teammate of Bill White (who would become president of the National League), Larry Jackson (who would serve in the Idaho state legislature), Wilmer Mizell (who would serve as a Republican U.S. Congressman from Mississippi), and Curt Flood (who would go to the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit challenging baseball's Reserve Clause).
Bob Miller played for 16 different major league managers (one of them, Billy Martin, twice), three of whom (Walt Alston, Leo Durocher, and Casey Stengel) would be elected to the Hall of Fame for their managing achievements. Miller was a teammate of 23 players who would go on to become major league managers, two of whom (Alvin Dark and Don Zimmer) would manage Miller.
Bob Miller was a teammate of five players whose fathers had played in the major leagues, and nine players whose sons would do so. He was a teammate of 20 players with a brother in the major leagues, including three complete sets of brothers (Danny and Hal Breeden, Adrian and Wayne Garrett, and Lindy and Von McDaniel).
Bonus Baby Bob
To begin with, Bob Miller was a Bonus Baby, in the great Bonus Baby era of 1953-1957. (To confuse matters, he wasn’t the only Bob Miller who was a Bonus Baby – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) On June 20, 1957, upon his graduation from high school, the 18-year-old Miller was signed by the hometown Cardinals to a bonus contract of a reported $20,000, large enough to require the Cards to place him immediately on the active major league roster. Miller made his major league debut just six days later, on the 26th of June, pitching mop-up relief in an 11-3 loss to the Phillies.
Like many Bonus Babies, Miller was given few opportunities to play, as he appeared in just four more games over the rest of the 1957 season. Following that season, the Bonus rules were loosened, and the Cardinals were allowed to farm Miller out. He started the 1958 season with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, but struggled, and then spent the bulk of the year with the Double-A Houston Buffaloes, where he did okay (8-11, 3.54 ERA). Back with Rochester in 1959, he did reasonably well (8-12, 3.50) and was promoted to the major league level for the remainder of that season, where he continued to do pretty well (4-3, 3.30). Except for a very brief injury-related assignment in late 1960, Miller was in the majors to stay.
Miller never cracked the Cardinals’ regular starting rotation in 1960 or 1961, working primarily in long relief and as a spot starter. On October 10, 1961, in the first expansion draft in the history of the National League, Miller was selected by the New York Mets.
If perhaps it was inevitable that sooner or later two of the Bob Millers would wind up on the same team, then what better ball club for it to be than the comically inept 1962 Mets. Bob G. Miller had been the other like-named Bonus Baby (with the Tigers in 1953), and when both found themselves on the Mets' roster in 1962, the situation was bound to create confusion on the bullpen phone. Legend has it that 72-year-old manager Casey Stengel—who had a terrible time remembering players' names under the best of circumstances—applied inscrutable Stengelian logic to the situation, and generally just referred to our Miller by the seemingly random name of "Nelson."
With the newborn Mets, the 23-year-old Miller got his first opportunity to pitch in a significant big league role, starting 21 games and working a total of 144 innings. In a pitiless environment for a developing pitcher (meager offensive support, porous defense and crazily close home park outfield walls), successful results were not forthcoming; Miller finished 1-12 with a 4.89 ERA and indeed didn't even pick up the lone victory until his very last outing of the season, on September 29.
But statistics often don't tell the whole story, and while obviously Miller didn't bowl anyone over, he was fairly impressive. Here is Roger Angell's description of Miller's work against the power-laden San Francisco Giants on June 3rd of that season:
Young Bob Miller, who hadn't won a game this year, was matching the Giants' ace, Juan Marichal, pitch for pitch, and looked almost quicker; he struck out eight Giants in the first six innings... Miller's motion is economical. His pitches are more sidearm than Marichal's, and his deceptive speed comes from a big twist of the torso toward left field just before he delivers the pitch. He was keeping the ball low, which is something the Mets' pitchers haven't been able to do often this spring, and the Giants were swinging late and hitting a lot of soft hoppers to the infield.
... in the sixth, Miller, who had fanned Mays in his two previous trips to the plate, tried to blow another fastball past him on the first pitch. It was his first mistake. Mays hit the ball against the upper facade of the top deck in deep left center, and the game was tied. A little disconsolate, Miller started the seventh by giving up a single and hitting the next batter. [Mets' shortstop Elio] Chacon then hesitated a fraction of a second on Pagan's grounder and was too late with his throw, and the bases were loaded. Miller walked in one run, Kuenn singled in two, and after McCovey's out the infield botched a double play, and the Mets were finished. They had wasted the rarest of their meager assets—a good pitching performance.
On November 30, 1962, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had won 102 games and lost out to the Giants only after a best-of-three playoff, traded two young players (24-year-old first baseman Tim Harkness and 25-year-old middle infielder Larry Burright) to the Mets in exchange for Miller.
Shangri-La in Chavez Ravine
The situation with the Dodgers could scarcely have been any more refreshing. Miller was now working in an extreme pitchers' home park (Dodger Stadium), with defensive support from Gold Glovers at catcher (John Roseboro), shortstop (Maury Wills), and center field (Willie Davis), and in the midst of a deep and brilliantly talented pitching staff. In 1963, Miller was deployed as a swingman: a spot starter behind the tremendous front line of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Johnny Podres, and a long reliever behind stalwarts Ron Perranoski, Larry Sherry, and Ed Roebuck. Miller flourished, going 10-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 187 innings, blossoming as a significant contributor to the 1963 Dodger team that won the NL pennant by a six-game margin, and stunningly swept the World Series in four straight over the heavily-favored New York Yankees.
Miller had earned a secure spot on the Los Angeles roster. Following 1963 he became more of a relief specialist, though he was still occasionally called upon to take a start. Though Miller led the league with 74 total appearances in 1964, he was never the Dodgers' bullpen ace (Perranoski and Phil Regan saw to that), but he provided reliable service as a whatever-is-needed utility pitcher. Miller was a key on both of the 1965 and 1966 pennant-winning Dodger teams, and saw action in the World Series in both of those years.
But in 1967, with Koufax and Wills both suddenly absent, the Dodgers collapsed. Along with much of the rest of the team, Miller slumped. In November he was traded to the Minnesota Twins (the Dodgers' 1965 World Series opponent), along with Perranoski and Roseboro, in exchange for two erstwhile stars who had hit the skids: '65 MVP shortstop Zoilo Versalles, and '65 20-game winner Jim "Mudcat" Grant.
Minnesota had a star-studded lineup, including future Hall of Famers in slugger Harmon Killebrew and batting champ Rod Carew, additional heavy hitters Tony Oliva and Bob Allison, and standout pitchers Dean Chance, Jim Kaat, and Jim Perry. But in 1968 the team was hit hard by injuries, and they fell to a seventh-place finish, though Miller contributed solid work as the long reliever behind aces Al Worthington and Perranoski.
For 1969 the Twins hired Billy Martin as a rookie manager, and a re-energized ball club surged to a runaway division title, with Miller providing solid work in his familiar long-relief, spot-starter role. In the first-ever American League Championship Series that year, the Twins encountered a powerhouse Baltimore Orioles opponent, and lost agonizing one-run extra-inning decisions in games one and two. Despite the fact that Miller had made just 11 starts in the regular season, Martin called upon him to start the last-ditch third game; alas, the Orioles knocked Miller out of the box in the second inning and cruised to an 11-2 romp, and with it the pennant.
Billy Martin's inaugural season as skipper might serve as a microcosm of his long managerial career; he spurred his team to immediate and dramatic success, but along the way stirred up so much interpersonal turmoil that he was fired that fall. Miller would also be let go, as in December of 1969 he was included in a blockbuster deal. The Twins traded him, along with the sore-armed former ace Chance, center fielder Ted Uhlaender, and an intriguing young outfielder-third baseman named Graig Nettles, to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for the sore-armed former ace Luis Tiant, and veteran starter-reliever Stan Williams.
Thus began the nomadic phase of Miller's career. His stay in Cleveland would last only until the non-waiver trading deadline of June 15, 1970, when he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox along with southpaw Barry Moore for standout defensive outfielder Buddy Bradford and journeyman reliever Tommie Sisk. The White Sox in 1970 were enduring a horrible season, arguably the very worst in their long history, which would see them lose a franchise-record 106 games and draw just 495,355, their lowest attendance since 1942. Manager Don Gutteridge, desperate to stop the bleeding, placed the 31-year-old Miller in the starting rotation. It was a role Miller hadn't filled since early 1963, and he did poorly. In late August Miller was demoted to the bullpen, and on the first of September he was sold to the cross-town Chicago Cubs.
Leo Durocher's Cubs were embroiled in a bitter three-team battle for the National League East title. Miller saw action out of their bullpen in seven games of that tense September, but the Cubs dropped seven of nine in the climactic stretch and finished a frustrating second.
The following spring, the Cubs used Miller in just two games before releasing him on May 10. He was 32 years old, and it might have been the end of the line. The San Diego Padres, however, stuck in a last place rut in their third year of existence, took a flyer on Miller, signing him as a free agent. He repaid them with an outstanding performance, compiling a scintillating 1.41 ERA in 38 games and 64 innings of relief. Whether Miller's resurgent effectiveness was just a fluke, or if perhaps at this nothing-to-lose point in his career he turned to a secret weapon such as a spitball, is unknown. At any rate his standout work for the cellar-dwelling Padres didn't go unnoticed, as for the second straight year a contending team picked him up for the stretch drive: on August 10, 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded 26-year-old outfielder Johnny Jeter and 27-year-old pitcher Ed Acosta to San Diego and received Miller in return. It was the second year in a row that Miller would play for three teams.
The Pirates were the ball club that had nosed out the Cubs for the NL East flag in 1970, and at the point they acquired Miller in August 1971 they were again in first, holding a six-game lead. With the help of a strong 16-game, 28-inning performance from Miller the rest of the way, Pittsburgh breezed to an easy division championship. Miller saw action in the NLCS as the Pirates dispatched the San Francisco Giants to claim the pennant. In the 1971 World Series, Miller pitched in three games, and despite the fact that he surrendered a run in the 10th inning and took the loss in game six, the Pirates prevailed as World Champs. For the third time in his career, Miller enjoyed a champagne bath at the season's very end.
Miller remained in the Pittsburgh bullpen for 1972, as the Pirates captured their third straight division title but then lost a close-fought Championship Series to Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.
The Pirates released Miller at the end of spring training in 1973, but once again the Padres picked him up. That June, Billy Martin's Detroit Tigers purchased him on waivers, and then in late September of 1973, for the third time Miller found himself being picked up by a National League East Division contender, this time none other than the New York Mets.
Miller's second tour of duty in New York was a dramatically different experience than his first. No longer the "loveable losers," the 1973 Mets were the scrappy "You Gotta Believe" bunch that squeaked to an improbable pennant despite having been in last place in their tightly bunched division as late as August 30. Miller saw action in just one game during that season's wild-and-wooly final week, and having joined the team too late for eligibility, was left off the post-season roster.
He remained in New York in 1974, working in 58 games of mostly mop-up relief as the Mets skidded to a disappointing fifth-place finish. He was released that fall, but once again the San Diego Padres gave him another chance, inviting him to spring training in 1975. He didn't make the major league team, but accepted an assignment to the Padres' Triple-A affiliate in Honolulu, the Hawaii Islanders. Miller worked in 15 Pacific Coast League games that season before finally seeing his pitching career come to an end at the age of 36.
But Miller's professional baseball career wasn't over. In 1976, he took the job as manager of the Padres' affiliate, the Amarillo Gold Sox of the double-A Texas League. He guided the team to an 81-54 first place record, and won the league title with a three games to two playoff victory over the Pittsburgh organization's Shreveport Captains.
In 1977, the American League expanded, and for the second time in his career Miller was part of a startup ball club, now as the pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. He spent three years in that role, and though the Blue Jays really struggled, Miller was able to work with two future star pitchers in Pete Vuckovich and Dave Stieb, and five others under his tutelage there would become major league pitching coaches themselves: Joe Coleman, Chuck Hartenstein, Dyar Miller, Dave Wallace, and Mark Wiley.
Miller had another turn as a major league pitching coach, with the San Francisco Giants in 1985. There another of his pitchers, Mark Davis, would go on to stardom and become a major league pitching coach as well. Following 1985, Miller continued to work in the Giants' organization as a minor league pitching instructor and in various front-office roles.
On August 6, 1993, in Rancho Bernardo (a suburb of San Diego), California, Miller was driving his elderly mother to a doctor's appointment. Crossing an intersection, his car was t-boned, and Bob Miller, age 54, was killed.
The Multitude of Touchpoints
His end was terribly sad, tragic and premature. But Bob Miller's baseball career remains a fascinating legacy, as richly detailed as any in history.
Teammates of Bob Miller who were Hall of Famers:
Luis Aparicio, Richie Ashburn, Ernie Banks, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Hoyt Wilhelm, Billy Williams, and Dave Winfield.
Additional Teammates of Bob Miller who were major league All-Stars:
Hank Aguirre, Gene Alley, Bob Allison, Glenn Beckert, Gus Bell, Ken Berry, Don Blasingame, Steve Blass, Ken Boyer, Jim Brewer, Rocky Bridges, Ed Brinkman, Johnny Callison, Chris Cannizzaro, Buzz Capra, Leo Cardenas, Dave Cash, Norm Cash, Dean Chance, Gino Cimoli, Nate Colbert, Jim Colborn, Joe Coleman, Walker Cooper, George Crowe, Joe Cunningham, Alvin Dark, Vic Davalillo, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Murry Dickson, Dock Ellis, Dick Ellsworth, Del Ennis, Ron Fairly, Ed Farmer, Curt Flood, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Woody Fryman, Cito Gaston, Jim Gilliam, Dave Giusti, Mudcat Grant, Bob Grim, Jerry Grote, Johnny Grubb, Larry Gura, Steve Hargan, Bud Harrelson, Ken Harrelson, Ed Herrmann, Jim Hickman, John Hiller, Chuck Hinton, Gil Hodges, Ken Holtzman, Joel Horlen, Willie Horton, Frank Howard, Randy Hundley, Ron Hunt, Ray Jablonski, Larry Jackson, Julian Javier, Tommy John, Cleon Jones, Randy Jones, Sam Jones, Duane Josephson, Jim Kaat, Eddie Kasko, Pat Kelly, Don Kessinger, Bobby Knoop, Jerry Koosman, Ed Kranepool, Clem Labine, Bob Lee, Jim Lefebvre, Mickey Lolich, Felix Mantilla, Jon Matlack, Carlos May, Dick McAuliffe, Tim McCarver, Lindy McDaniel, Sam McDowell, Tug McGraw, Bill Melton, Jim Merritt, Felix Millan, Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Wally Moon, Jerry Morales, Walt Moryn, Charlie Neal, Graig Nettles, Irv Noren, Tony Oliva, Al Oliver, Claude Osteen, Milt Pappas, Joe Pepitone, Jim Perry, Vada Pinson, Juan Pizarro, Johnny Podres, Phil Regan, Del Rice, Pete Richert, Rich Rollins, John Roseboro, Manny Sanguillen, Ron Santo, Curt Simmons, Bill Singer, Bill Skowron, Hal Smith, Rusty Staub, Dick Stuart, Tony Taylor, Frank Thomas, Bob Veale, Leon Wagner, Bill White, Maury Wills, Wilbur Wood, Gene Woodling, Don Zimmer, and Richie Zisk.
Bob Miller's major league managers:
Walt Alston, Yogi Berra, Alvin Dark, Leo Durocher, Cal Ermer, Preston Gomez, Don Gutteridge, Solly Hemus, Fred Hutchinson, Johnny Keane, Billy Martin, Danny Murtaugh, Joe Schultz, Casey Stengel, Bill Virdon, and Don Zimmer.
Teammates of Bob Miller who became major league managers:
Ken Boyer, Pat Corrales, Roger Craig, Alvin Dark, Cito Gaston, Alex Grammas, Bud Harrelson, Gil Hodges, Frank Howard, Darrell Johnson, Eddie Kasko, Don Kessinger, Jim Lefebvre, Bob Lillis, Charlie Manuel, Gene Michael, Frank Quilici, Phil Regan, Del Rice, Red Schoendienst, Jeff Torborg, Maury Wills, and Don Zimmer.
Teammates of Bob Miller whose father played in the major leagues:
Doug Camilli, Jim Campanis, Joe Coleman, Len Gabrielson, and Milt May.
Teammates of Bob Miller whose son played in the major leagues:
Gus Bell, Julio Gotay, Randy Hundley, Julian Javier, Fred Kendall, Dick Nen, Dick Schofield, Ed Spiezio, and Maury Wills.
Teammates of Bob Miller whose brother(s) played in the major leagues:
Ken Boyer, Danny Breeden, Hal Breeden, Ed Brinkman, Larry Brown, Walker Cooper, Vic Davalillo, Sammy Drake, Phil Gagliano, Adrian Garrett, Wayne Garrett, Hal Jeffcoat, Carlos May, Lindy McDaniel, Von McDaniel, Graig Nettles, Jim Perry, Dick Ricketts, Vicente Romo, Larry Sherry, and Marv Throneberry.
References and Resources
Roger Angell, The Summer Game (New York: Popular Library, 1972), pp. 52-54.
"The Coach Roster" is found in John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Michael Gershman, and David Pietrusza, eds., Total Baseball (New York: Viking, 1997), pp. 2356-2363.
Information on familial relationships between major league players is found in "Player Register," Joseph L. Reichler, ed., The Baseball Encyclopedia (New York: MacMillan, 1985), pp. 659-1550.
Steve Treder can often be found spending way too much time talking baseball at Baseball Primer. He welcomes your questions and comments via e-mail.