SABR

Rick Miller

This article was written by Mike Richard.

Depending on how you spell it, or sometimes how you pronounce it, Boston has enjoyed its share of "Miller Time" for many seasons. In recent years, the Red Sox have employed Wade Miller, third baseman Bill Mueller (pronounced Miller) and first baseman Kevin Millar (OK, close enough). In past history there was also outfielder Hack Miller of the 1918 World Champs, third baseman Otto Miller of the early 1930s, and outfielder Bing Miller of the mid-'30s.

However, there's no question that for longevity purposes and overall production, the best known of the bunch has been a fleet-footed left-handed batting outfielder by the name of Rick Miller.

Richard Alan Miller was born on April 19, 1948, in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Irving and Marguerite Miller. Irving Miller was an outstanding center for the Union High School football team in Grand Rapids in the late 1920's, in his day playing opposite Gerald Ford while the future president was a student at South High School in Grand Rapids.

Rick Miller began playing baseball at the age of 9 in the Grand Rapids Little League program. While he acknowledged that both parents were very supportive of his athletic endeavors, his dad was also his biggest critic. "He'd say things like 'Don't get a big head; if you go four-for-five, what happened the fifth time,'" he recalled. The Millers had withstood a family tragedy before Rick was born, as a brother Arlan died of leukemia at the age of 5. 

While Miller's sports idols while growing up were Tigers Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline and Detroit hockey great Gordie Howe, Rick's brother Irving II provided the yardstick by which the younger Miller would be measured.

In 1956, Irving -- a three-sport standout at Union High -- was named Most Valuable Athlete out of the 10 Class A high schools that comprised Grand Rapids. Exactly 10 years later, Rick -- a football, basketball and baseball star -- was recipient of the same award. "It was quite an achievement, probably something that I'm most proud of through all the things I did in sports," he said, noting that he was a pitcher and outfielder at Union, where he had the most wins and lowest ERA in the city in 1966.

Miller was invited to a pre-game workout with the Detroit Tigers in the summer of 1966 along with a fellow Michigan high school standout, Ted Simmons, where he had the chance to meet his boyhood hero Kaline.

"I even hit a few home runs there," Miller admitted. "I was amazed at how easy it was to hit home runs at Tiger Stadium," he added, noting the old short porch in right field.

Two years later, Simmons would begin a 17-year major league career as a catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals.

After high school, Miller won a baseball scholarship to Michigan State, where he also played one year as a walk-on with the basketball team, winning a starting guard position. However, an ankle injury forced him to curtail basketball to concentrate on baseball.

An All-American at Michigan State, Miller was converted from a pitcher to an outfielder, under coach Danny Litwhiler. Litwhiler spent 11years in the majors, an outfielder with several teams including the world champion St. Louis Cardinals of 1944.

"They wanted me to pitch, but I wanted to play every day," he said. "In fall ball as a freshman I went out and laid it in against the varsity and got killed, so (Litwhiler) made me a centerfielder."

Miller won the Big Ten batting title with a .429 average in 1969, his junior year, and became the number two selection of the Boston Red Sox in the June 1969 draft. Boston's number one choice that year, Noel Jenke of the University of Minnesota, finished second to Miller in Big Ten batting, but instead opted for a football career. He went on to become a linebacker with Minnesota, Atlanta and Green Bay in the NFL.

Miller was signed to a Red Sox contract on June 19, 1969, by scout Maurice DeLoof. The same scout has also signed pitchers Ron Perranoski and Dick Radatz to major league contracts.

A six-foot, 180-pounder, Miller reported to Boston's Double-A Pittsfield squad and played in 77 games, batting .262 with 6 home runs and 32 RBI.

The following year, when the Pittsfield Eastern League affiliate was moved to Pawtucket, Miller joined many players who would one day become his Red Sox teammates including Carlton Fisk, Ben Oglivie, Buddy Hunter, John Curtis, Lynn McGlothen and Roger Moret. In 113 games that season, he hit .247 with 12 homers and 56 RBI.

Then in 1971, while in Triple-A Louisville, he hit a career-high 15 home runs and drove in 58 while again batting .247. He led the league in walks with 106, while also compiling a league-leading 117 strikeouts.

"I was taking a lot of pitches, but I was actually swinging for the fences," Miller admitted. "To hit 15 home runs, I'm not that big a guy. I was using a big bat, 33 ounces, way too big for me. I was getting in a bad position to hit." 

Miller claimed he was "an afterthought to be brought up (to the Red Sox in late 1971)," he said. "I was a very good defensive outfielder. They took Fisk because they needed catchers late in the season, but after our last game they said, 'Tell Miller to come up too,'" he recalled. "They were a little weak in the outfield at the time and they knew what I could do defensively."

Eddie Kasko was the manager of the Red Sox at the time. Miller said Kasko was "the best manager I had in baseball. He knew the game very well. He let you play, just go do your thing. He was a very good tactician."

In the final 15 games with the Red Sox that season, he played reserve roles in an outfield that was comprised of Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, Billy Conigliaro, and Joe Lahoud. He wound up going 11-for-33 with a home run, batting .333 in the month of September.

In his first game, on September 4, 1971, Miller swung at the first pitch he saw from Cleveland hurler Phil Hennigan, lining it for a double off the left-field wall at Fenway Park.

"I came in late in the game as a pinch hitter, and I was really nervous. It was a high fast ball, first swing and it went for a double off the Green Monster," he said. Miller also recalled that his first home run that season was off another Cleveland pitcher, Rich Hand.

In 1972, sharing time in an outfield of Yastrzemski, Smith and Tommy Harper, Miller played in 89 games, but usually as a late-game defensive replacement for Harper in center field. He hit three home runs with a .214 batting average.

Miller was also named Red Sox' "Unsung Hero of 1972" by the Boston Baseball Writers Association.

By 1973, Yastrzemski had shifted to first base as Harper played left field. The outfield was intended to be Harper in left, Smith in center, and Dwight Evans in right. Miller played center when Smith got hurt, and also served as defensive replacement. He also played 60 games in right when Evans didn't hit. Rick's batting average rose to .261 with major league career-highs of 6 home runs and 43 RBIs in 143 games. In addition, his 12 stolen bases were second on the team to Harper, who set a Red Sox record that season with 54.

In a June 20 game against Milwaukee that season, Miller led off the game with a home run, while Smith followed back-to-back off Bill Parsons, helping lefty Bill Lee to a 3-2 win. 

According to the 1974 Red Sox yearbook, his "emergence as a dependable hitter to go along with his outstanding defensive skills in center field made it possible for Red Sox to trade Reggie Smith for pitching help." The Sox would acquire Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo, both major cogs in their 1975 American League pennant-winning season, in the trade with St. Louis for Smith and Ken Tatum.

"I got great jumps, I knew how to play players, I would cheat, I knew the counts, I always moved on each pitch according to the count," he said, describing his forte as a defensive specialist in Fenway's tough center field. "Thurman Munson just hated me, because I would play him perfect. I took more hits away from him. He'd be all over me from the catcher's position when I came up to bat. I'd just step out and say 'Are you done yet?'"

In the off season that year, Miller married teammate Carlton Fisk's sister Janet Marie, whom he had first met while the two ballplayers were teammates in Pawtucket in 1970. The couple has a son Joshua, who is currently 25 and a skier and mountain biker.

In 1974, Miller played 77 games in center field, while Minor League Player of the Year Juan Beniquez played 91. Darrell Johnson used all this players, and Miller played the outfield with Harper, Carbo, Evans, and Beniquez -- and even Yaz during one stretch when Harper wasn't hitting. Miller again batted .261. Fred Lynn was called up in September and took the center field slot.
          
At the conclusion of the 1974 season, the BoSox Club named Miller its "Man of the Year" due to his many visits to hospitalized children in the Boston area. He admitted that his parents' experience losing a son to leukemia before he was born was an underlying factor in his willingness to join in the Red Sox charity work with the Jimmy Fund, among others.

"It's something you do as a player. They would ask us to go to Children's Hospital to meet with some kids and I'd say 'sure.' It was easy for me," he said. "Thinking about my brother, we didn't really talk about it, but that death really changed my parents." 

Miller says he felt he was forecast as the leadoff hitter for the 1975 season, but the day before the team broke training camp manager Darrell Johnson opted to go with Beniquez, so that he could get Fred Lynn into the lineup on a regular basis. Jim Rice was the DH for most of the first half, but then took over the left field slot. Miller was a valued backup outfielder who played when one of the others struggled or when someone got hurt.

"I had been groomed by Johnny Pesky to hit the ball on the ground, get on base, so I had to change my swing a lot to be a contact hitter," Miller said. "The rest is history, and Freddy never came out of the lineup."

With the emergence of Boston's renowned Gold Dust twins, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in center and left, and Dwight Evans solidifying his job in right, Miller saw his starting time begin to dwindle. Lynn posted numbers (21 homers, 105 RBI, and a .331 average) that led to his becoming baseball's first Most Valuable Player award and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Meanwhile, Rice was becoming one of the game's most feared sluggers with 22 home runs, 102 RBI, and a .309 average.

Despite Boston's remarkable charge to the pennant and World Series 1975, Miller recalled it as "the absolute worst year I ever had," he said. "Fred (Lynn) played all the time, Jim Rice played all the time. If it hadn't been for the World Series, it would have been really bad for me that year, mentally and as a player."  

There were some bright spots that season for Miller, nonetheless. On April 12, he came into the game as a pinch runner in the 13th inning and scored on a Doug Griffin single to beat Baltimore, 3-2.

Then, on June 4, again as pinch runner, he scored the game-winner on a Rick Burleson single as the Red Sox rallied from a three-run deficit to score four in the ninth and beat Chicago at Fenway, 7-6.

"Even as exciting as that World Series was, it was terrible because it rained so much," he said. "We didn't have any time to go out and practice, just to go out in the outfield and have some fun shagging flies and taking batting practice. It was terrible," he added, noting that his fondest memory of the World Series was playing cards during all the rain delays.

Miller had two at-bats in the 1975 World Series in pinch-hitting roles against the Reds, and recalled one at-bat in Cincinnati where he thought he had a base hit with a ball up the middle.

"As I was running to first base I looked up and Joe Morgan was standing there. They were pitching me away and playing me away," he said. "They had done their scouting but I hadn't played much, so I don't know how they scouted me."

In 1976, due to injuries to Lynn, Miller played in 105 games and had his best season hitting for Boston at .283, and played all three outfield positions. He was 5-for-17 in pinch-hitting roles.

The 1977 season marked the final year of Miller's first stint with the team. He broke his left thumb when hit by a pitch thrown by Nelson Briles, which landed him on the disabled list from May 3 to May 30. Still, he hit .254 and made only one error in 86 games in the outfield.

That season he played without a contract because he was going to become a free agent the following year. If he had signed a contract, the Red Sox would have been able to get compensation from whatever team Miller signed with. Since he was an unsigned free agent, should he go to another team it would not have to give up any players.

After the season, on December 8, 1977, Miller signed with California Angels following free agent re-entry draft, becoming the first free agent to ever leave the Red Sox.           

"I'm sure the Red Sox had ample opportunities to trade me before that, but I think they felt I was too valuable to trade because of the way I played defense," Miller said.  

With the Angels, Miller became their everyday right fielder (he played 93 games in CF and 36 games in RF) and won a Gold Glove with a fielding percentage of .989, collecting 353 outfield putouts and only four errors. He also added nine assists and was involved in five double plays.

The 1979 season allowed Miller to play in the American League championship series as the Western Division champion Angels lost to Baltimore three games to one. That season, primarily serving as leadoff hitter, he batted a career-high .293, and shared the outfield with Dan Ford, Don Baylor, and Joe Rudi.

After the 1980 season, when he batted .274, Miller was dealt back to the Red Sox on Dec. 10, in a trade that also brought third baseman Carney Lansford and pitcher Mark Clear for Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson.

"It was good for me, I was happy to go back. Boston is a great place to play baseball," he said. "California was a little more laid back, and not as exciting."

Upon his return to the Red Sox, Miller became the regular center fielder for the strike interrupted 1981 season. That year he responded with his Red Sox high .291 average, and on May 11, he went 5-for-5 in one game and had a record-tying four doubles in a game in Toronto. He was again named the "Red Sox Unsung Hero" at the conclusion of the season. He followed this up with another solid year in 1982, playing in the outfield between Rice and Evans, hitting .254 in 135 games

In 1983, the Red Sox traded for Tony Armas, who took over in centerfield, and Miller's playing time began to wane. He played a little first base and also had a few games as a designated hitter, but his playing time dropped way off to only 41 appearances as a result of a hip injury during his final season, 1985. Miller was highly regarded for his extraordinary pinch-hitting. In 1983, he was 17-for-36 (.472), and then in 1984 was 14-for-53 (.264). What is remarkable is how often he pinch hit. He was the best in the league and known for it.

In his first few years away from baseball Miller worked with his financial advisor, then developed a promotional business dealing in autograph shows. However, he says that he had a serendipitous moment following the death of his father that brought him back to baseball.

"I was watching Field of Dreams and I had this revelation that my dad wanted me back in the game of baseball, teaching and coaching," he said. "As I was watching that movie, I could almost hear my dad talking to me."

Upon moving to his current home in New London, N.H., he began an association with Colby Sawyer College as a volunteer assistant coach with the baseball team there. He also runs baseball clinics for youth sports programs throughout New England, as well as doing charity work in baseball.

When looking back at a career punctuated by his reputation as a solid left-handed batter and an exceptional defensive outfielder, Miller knows exactly how he'd like to be remembered.

"I'd like to be known as somebody who gave everything, all the time, and was a complete player who did every phase of the game well," he said. "I came in as a defensive specialist and left as an offensive specialist."

Note

A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.

Source

Personal interview with Rick Miller, August 9, 2005.

Reichler, Joseph L., editor, The Baseball Encyclopedia, NY: Macmillan, 1985.

Boston Red Sox Official Yearbook, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981.

Diary Of A Winner - 1975, Play By Play and Day By Day
Shamrock Publishing Co., Inc. 1975

Walton, Ed, Red Sox Triumphs and Tragedies. NY: Stein and Day Publishers, 1980

Walton, Ed, This Day In Boston Red Sox History. NY: Stein and Day Publishers, 1978

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