Stu Miller - 1959 Topps baseball card

Former Relief Pitcher Stu Miller Baffled
Hitters With Keen Control And Deception

By Todd Newville

Former major league pitcher Stu Miller was a master of deception. A magician on the mound with a fluttering array of off-speed pitches, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Miller used his assortment of curveballs and change-ups to confound and frustrate many opposing hitters during his career.

Even the best sluggers had a hard time gauging the diminutive Miller. With his baffling repertoire, the right-hander could make even the best hitters - salivating like a pack of Pavlov’s hungry dogs - flail in disgust at his ever-so-enticing offerings.

He didn’t make many friends with opposing hitters over the years, but he certainly earned their respect. Miller proved that you don’t need to possess blazing speed or an imposing physique to succeed as a pitcher at the highest level of professional baseball.

“Good control and deception,” Miller said in explaining how he became one of baseball’s premier relief pitchers with the San Francisco Giants and the Baltimore Orioles during the 1960s. “I was an off-speed pitcher and I relied on keeping the batter’s timing off. I could throw a fastball that looked like a curveball.

“It was all deception and I had a good off-speed pitch and curveball. They both looked the same to the hitter. I relied on brains and not brawn. I was not overpowering by any means.”

Miller (now 78) had a hard time convincing even his first major league manager that he had the ability to get major league hitters out. When Miller was first called up to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1952, he reported to the team outside Chicago’s Wrigley Field where they were playing the Cubs. But, security guards refused to allow him inside the stadium.

“The clubhouse guy for the Cardinals had to go out and tell them who I was and to let me in,” Miller said with a chuckle. “They didn’t believe I was a baseball player.”

Former major league relief pitcher Stu Miller was one of the first successful closers in baseball history during the 1960s - first with the San Francisco Giants and then with the Baltimore Orioles.
Neither did Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky. When he first glanced at Miller, he asked the clubhouse manager who “that stenographer” was. Miller later would beat the Cubs with a 1-0 shutout in his major league debut on Aug. 12.

“(Stanky) called me that because of my size,” said Miller, who went 6-3 with a 2.05 ERA during his rookie campaign in ’52. “When I came up to the major leagues, I only weighed 149 pounds. I was not at all imposing in my stature. But, it was not a derogatory term in any sense. Besides, I’ve been called a lot of things in my life.”

Most of them were profane, Miller admits.

“The hitters might have hated me,” he said, “but they respected me. Most of them didn’t want to face me.”

Stu Miller came up to the big leagues in 1952 with the St. Louis Cardinals and threw a 1-0 shutout victory against the Chicago Cubs in his major league debut.
That’s because Miller usually made them look foolish at the plate. He may never make the Hall of Fame, but plenty of players already inducted into the Cooperstown shrine can attest to his aptitude for making them look like Little Leaguers at times.

Today, Miller lives in Cameron Park, Calif., and he seems to be a man with a good sense of self-deprecating humor. Many former opponents would probably say they liked him just fine as a person. It would be hard not to like anybody who peppers his conversations liberally with laughter and light-hearted observations.

But, during his playing days, opinions on his pitching varied depending on who you asked. Opposing players hated facing him. Teammates were no doubt thrilled with his results. Even then, his style elicited some backhanded compliments. When Miller was with Baltimore, he earned the rather sarcastic nickname “The Bullet” from his fellow Orioles.

Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson once said, “I still don't see how Stu Miller threw the ball that soft and got it to home plate.” Former pitcher Milt Pappas offered, “He had three speeds for his pitches: slow, slower, and slowest.” Former Giants outfielder Dusty Rhodes quipped, “Boys, there's the first pitcher I ever saw that changed speeds on his change-up."

No matter how he did it, there was no arguing that Miller did his job - and he did it well for many seasons. His unique approach to getting hitters out translated into a career record of 105 wins against 103 losses along with a 3.24 ERA and 154 saves.

“I feel very good about my stature in the game,” Miller said.

After his successful rookie season with the Cardinals in ’52, Miller suffered some growing pains the next two years as his ERA ballooned to 5.56 in 1953 and to 5.79 in 1954. He was then shipped to Omaha, where he spent the entire ’55 campaign and led the American Association in innings pitched (244) while forging a 17-14 record with 161 strikeouts and a 3.02 ERA.

After three games with St. Louis in 1956, the Cardinals traded Miller (along with fellow pitchers Harvey Haddix and Ben Flowers) to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitchers Herm Wehmeier and Murry Dickson on May 11. Miller went 5-8 with a 4.47 ERA the rest of the year for the Phils, who traded him to the New York Giants after the season for pitcher Jim Hearn.

With New York in ’57, Miller went 7-9 with a 3.63 ERA - splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. When the Giants moved to San Francisco in ’58, Miller blossomed and became one of the finest hurlers in the National League as he led the Senior Circuit with a 2.47 ERA in a career-high 182 innings pitched.

“I was a spot starter and a relief pitcher,” said Miller, whose record in ‘58 was 6-9 in 41 games - 20 as a starter. “I wasn’t totally a relief pitcher at that point in my career. But, I was able to accumulate enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.”

Stu Miller was traded during the 1956 season from the Cardinals to the Phillies, then was dealt to the Giants following the '56 campaign. That's when he started to develop into a top-notch relief pitcher.
His transformation solely into a relief pitcher with the Giants was gradual. In 1959, Miller went 8-7 with a 2.84 ERA over 59 games. He started just nine games but finished second behind teammate Sam Jones (2.83) for the league‘s ERA title. In 1960, he was 7-6 with a 3.90 ERA over 47 games - and just three starts.

By 1961, Miller’s conversion to the bullpen was complete. That year, he went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 17 saves, which tied Roy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the league lead. His 63 appearances were second to Jack Baldschun (65) of the Phillies and his 46 games finished were second to Face, who finished 47.

Opposing batters hit just .215 in ‘61 against Miller, whose 14 wins in relief were still good enough to place him among the league leaders in victories. His .737 winning percentage was second in the Senior Circuit behind only Johnny Podres (.783) of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Miller finished 12th in the balloting for the National League’s MVP award and he won the NL’s Fireman of the Year honor as the league’s top reliever.

His performance also earned him a spot in the 1961 All-Star Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco - his home field. On the afternoon of July 11, Miller came into the game in relief of Sandy Koufax during the ninth inning to face one of the American League’s most ferocious sluggers - Rocky Colavito. With Roger Maris on first, Al Kaline on second and the National League holding a 3-2 lead, Miller went into his stretch.

Much to Stu Miller's chagrin, the headlines after the 1961 All-Star Game in Candlestick Park said he was blown off the mound. But, in two All-Star Games that year, he struck out nine American League stars in just 4 2/3 innings, which ranks as one of his favorite achievements.
“Before the game, it was the warmest day we had had in a while,” Miller remembered, “and the flag was straight down - no wind before the game. That was unusual. By the seventh inning, it started to flutter a little bit. By the eighth, the darn thing was just about torn from the flagpole - which was normal for Candlestick. But, I‘d never seen the wind as strong as it was that day. I put my foot on the rubber, anchored myself into the wind, and I leaned in toward Colavito.”

Just as he was about to deliver his first pitch, a sudden gust of wind caused Miller to move his shoulder inadvertently about three or four inches, he said.

“I wavered back and forth just a little. But, the American League bench was looking right at me and they went to hollering ’Balk!’ I moved but the wind forced me to move. The umpires didn’t call a thing at first.”

Plate umpire Stan Landes took off his mask and walked toward the mound - then motioned for the runners to move up one base. The AL later tied the game on an error by third baseman Ken Boyer.

“He called a balk on me. I tried to explain to him that the wind forced me to move. He said, ’I know it, but rules are rules and I’ve got to call it.’ The umpires knew it was some serious conditions out there. But, I made a balk - a simple balk.”

Boyer committed another error (throwing the ball into right field) to allow Nellie Fox to score the go-ahead run from first base in the top of the 10th. But, the National League won the game in the bottom of the inning on singles by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente. Miller, therefore, was the winning pitcher.

“But, the next day, that’s not what you read in the newspaper,” Miller said. “The biggest headlines they could get read ’Miller Blown Off Mound.’ Never mind that we won the game; that’s what they decided to run with. They made it sound like I was pinned against the centerfield fence, for crying out loud!’

Miller struck out Tony Kubek, Dick Howser, Jim Gentile, and Maris in his 1 2/3 innings of work. Later that month on July 31, the second All-Star Game was played at Boston’s Fenway Park. From 1959 to ‘62, two All-Star Games were held each year.

Miller (who was born 100 miles east of Fenway in Northampton, Mass.) pitched the last three innings, striking out five more American League stars. Luis Aparicio, Johnny Temple, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, and Roy Sievers were his victims - the last three in succession in the ninth. But, the game ended in a 1-1 tie after a 30-minute rain delay, marking the first time an All-Star Game ended in deadlocked fashion.

“A lot of people remember the balk,” Miller said, “but that year, I struck out nine batters in 4 2/3 innings over the course of the two All-Star Games. That is one of my most memorable recollections in baseball. I am very proud of that.”

Miller was 5-8 with 19 saves and a 4.12 ERA in 59 games for the Giants in 1962. He pitched in the World Series against the New York Yankees - a seven-game thriller which ended on Willie McCovey’s sharp liner to second baseman Bobby Richardson. He didn‘t allow a run and walked two in his 1 1/3 innings of Series work.

“We had a super team,” Miller remembered, “but I didn’t get much action. (Manager) Al Dark got down on me that year and I only got into a couple of (Series) games. In fact, I was traded after that year.”

Stu Miller was the first pitcher in history to win the Fireman of the Year award in both leagues - in 1961 with the Giants and in '63 with the Orioles. Since then, only four other hurlers (Mike Marshall, Rollie Fingers, Jeff Reardon, and Lee Smith) have done that.

San Francisco traded Miller, pitcher Mike McCormick and catcher Johnny Orsino to Baltimore on Dec. 15, 1962, for pitchers Jack Fisher and Billy Hoeft and catcher Jim Coker. With the Orioles, Miller resumed his stellar relief pitching as he went 5-8 with a league-leading 27 saves and a sparkling 2.24 ERA. His 71 appearances for Baltimore that year led the league and set a new American League record - breaking the previous mark of 70 games by Mike Fornieles of the Boston Red Sox in 1960.

Miller’s saves total was just two shy of the then-major league record of 29 by Luis Arroyo of the New York Yankees in ’61. For his efforts, Miller earned his second Fireman of the Year award - becoming the first relief pitcher to win the award in both leagues. Since then, only four other closers (Mike Marshall, Rollie Fingers, Jeff Reardon, and Lee Smith) have done that.

Marshall won Fireman of the Year honors in 1973 with the Montreal Expos, in ’74 with the Dodgers, and in ’79 with the Minnesota Twins. Fingers won three Fireman trophies with the San Diego Padres (1977, ’78, and ’80) and one with the Milwaukee Brewers in ’81. Smith won a total of four with the Cubs (1983), Cardinals (1991, ’92), and Orioles (1994) while Reardon won with Montreal in 1985 and with Minnesota in ‘87.

In 1964, Miller continued his mastery from the bullpen, going 7-7 with 23 saves and a 3.06 ERA. He ranked third in the American League in saves behind Dick Radatz (29) of the Boston Red Sox and Hoyt Wilhelm (27) of the Chicago White Sox. Miller also ranked fifth in games finished with 46 and appearances with 66.

Stu Miller recorded 105 wins and 154 saves during his 16-year major league pitching career. When he retired in '68, only Hoyt Wilhelm and Roy Face had more saves and wins-plus-saves than Miller's totals.
In ‘65, Miller was 14-7 with 24 saves and a microscopic 1.89 ERA. He would have topped Cleveland’s Sam McDowell (2.18) for the ERA title, but he didn’t have quite enough innings pitched (119) to qualify. Still, opponents hit just .207 against him and his .667 winning percentage was fifth among American League hurlers.

Miller ranked fifth in appearances (67) and fourth in games finished (55) while finishing tied for second in saves with Chicago’s Eddie Fisher. Ron Kline of the Washington Senators had 29 saves to lead the Junior Circuit in ’65.

By the time 1966 rolled around, Miller had earned himself a spot among the game’s highest-paid players. That year, he went 9-4 with 18 saves and a 2.25 ERA in 51 games as the Orioles swept the Dodgers in the World Series.

“When I was with Baltimore in 1966,” Miller said, “the general manager (Harry Dalton) called me into his office. We didn’t have agents in those days. We did things on our own. When I signed my contract, he told me I was the highest-paid relief pitcher in both leagues. I think it was $46,500. That was excellent for any position back then. If you made more than $20,000, you were pretty darn good.”

Miller was part of another unique day in baseball history during his last season in Baltimore. On April 30, 1967, Steve Barber went 8 2/3 innings in the first game of a twin bill against Detroit - allowing no hits but issuing 10 walks and hitting two batters.

“Barber was a good pitcher but he had a tendency to be very wild at times,“ Miller said. “(Manager) Hank Bauer had all he could take. He didn’t want to fall behind any further because we still had the last of the ninth to go.“

Barber’s wild pitch in the ninth with runners on second and third allowed Ray Oyler to score, making it a 1-1 ballgame. When Barber walked another hitter, Bauer pulled him in favor of Miller. Don Wert then hit a sharp grounder up the middle that shortstop Aparicio gloved and tossed to second baseman Mark Belanger for the force.

Stu Miller in '63 with Baltimore.
But, Belanger dropped the ball for an error as the winning run crossed the plate. Miller got Kaline to ground out, but the Orioles were unable to score in their half of the ninth as the Tigers won 2-1. “I don’t really consider it a no-hitter because we lost,” Miller said, “but that is what (the record books) say it is.”

Stu Miller as a rookie in '52 with the Cards.
Houston’s Ken Johnson lost 1-0 to the Cincinnati Reds on April 24, 1964 despite throwing a no-hitter. That was the only other time prior to Barber and Miller’s game that a no-hitter had been thrown in a losing cause. The Yankees’ Andy Hawkins in 1990 and Boston’s Matt Young in 1992 also threw no-hitters - only to lose.

After going 3-10 for the Orioles in ‘67, Miller was sold on April 1, 1968, to the Atlanta Braves and appeared in just two more games. He ended his career with 704 appearances as he finished 405 of them. When he retired, Miller was third behind only Wilhelm (143 wins and 227 saves) and Face (104 wins and 193 saves) in saves and wins-plus-saves.

Since then, dozens of relievers have passed Miller in those categories. But, the practice of relief pitching has evolved into a science and relievers are utilized much differently than they were when Miller was in his prime. Along with Wilhelm, Face and others of his time, Miller could be considered a trailblazer for today’s relief pitchers.

“When I joined the Cardinals, relief pitchers were guys who couldn’t make the starting rotation,” Miller said. “As time went on, I guess ball clubs realized that in the late innings, relievers were very important. Thus, the so-called relief pitcher evolved.”

When Miller played, closers like him would routinely be summoned to pitch by the seventh inning - and be expected to keep things calm for the rest of the game. Now, it’s common for a closer to get credit for a save by pitching to just a batter or two.

“(Closing) has evolved into one inning,” Miller said, “and, occasionally, one out. It is too easy to get a save now, in my opinion. It was much tougher to get a save when I was pitching. But, I think relief pitchers are very important and are very valuable.”

Wilhelm held the record for games pitched (1,070) until Dennis Eckersley (1,071) and Jesse Orosco (1,252) passed him in the late 1990s. Wilhelm was the all-time saves leader until Fingers (who ended his career in 1985 with 341 saves) passed him in 1980.

Stu Miller (as he appeared on his 1961 Topps baseball card) says he was voted team MVP of the Baltimore Orioles twice during his tenure with the team - beating out the likes of Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.
Wilhelm was the first pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame as a reliever in ‘85. Fingers (in ‘92) and Eckersley (in 2004) are also in Cooperstown primarily as relievers. This year, Bruce Sutter became the first pure reliever to be elected into the Hall - having never started a game in his 12-year career. Sutter had 300 saves and a 2.82 ERA while finishing 512 of the 661 contests he appeared in.

“I think we’ll see more (relievers) in the Hall of Fame,” said Miller, who owned a liquor store for several years after retiring from the big leagues. “Fingers is in there. Eckersley is in there. Of course, there’s Wilhelm. I think relief pitchers get enough credit for what they do. They certainly get well paid for it now.”

According to Miller, he was named Baltimore’s team MVP on two occasions. That’s pretty impressive considering that he played with third baseman Brooks Robinson and outfielder Frank Robinson - a pair of Hall of Famers.

The former Robinson was a 16-time Gold Glove winner and the 1964 American League MVP. The latter was the first player to win MVP honors in both leagues (in 1961 with Cincinnati and in 1966 with the O’s) while winning the elusive Triple Crown in ’66 with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs, and 122 RBI.

“Those awards are two of my prized possessions,” said Miller, who has four sons (Scott, Marc, Gary, and Matt) and two daughters (Lori and Kim) with his wife Jane of 53 years. “It was voted upon by sports writers. Brooks Robinson was great. In fact, both Robinsons - Brooks and Frank - were outstanding people and outstanding players. That’s why the awards mean so much.”

Stu Miller (who surrendered Mickey Mantle's 500th career homer) used an assortment of slow pitches to frustrate opposing major league hitters for 16 years.
The spotlight shone somewhat on Miller for the last time when he surrendered Mantle’s 500th career home run on May 14, 1967, at Yankee Stadium. The switch-hitting Mantle connected off Miller from the left side of the plate to become just the sixth player at that time with 500 circuit blasts.

“I pitched against Mantle for five years,” Miller remembered, “and that was the only home run he hit off me. I still sign balls for people who send them to me - asking me to write that I pitched Mantle’s 500th home run. I sign them. What the heck, why would I care? It was just one home run. If I wasn’t his 500th victim, nobody would even know me.”

That’s doubtful. Sure, Mantle’s milestone homer, the infamous balk in ’61, the combined no-hitter in a losing effort, and other instances in Miller’s career may have been memorable moments by which most fans will remember him best.

But, like Miller himself, they are deceptive. They only obscure his remarkable record as a trailblazing reliever - which is what he should truly be remembered best for.

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