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 pitchers Andrew and Wade Miller, third baseman Bill Mueller (pronounced Miller) and first baseman Kevin Millar (OK, close enough). In past history there were 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. And don’t forget broadcaster Jon Miller (1980-82).

However, there’s no question that for longevity purposes and overall production, the best known of the bunch was a fleet-footed left-handed batting outfielder by the name of Rick Miller, whose 12 seasons with the Red Sox were interrupted by a three-year stretch with the California Angels.

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 1920s, 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 father 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 in an interview with the author. The Millers had withstood a family tragedy before Rick was born; a brother Arlan had 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 from the 10 Class A high schools that comprised Grand Rapids. Exactly ten years later, Rick – a football, basketball, and baseball star – received 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 the lowest ERA in the city in 1966.

Miller was invited to a pregame workout with the Detroit Tigers in the summer of 1966 along with a fellow 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 said. “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 began 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, an 11-year major-league outfielder. “They wanted me to pitch, but I wanted to play every day,” Miller 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 center fielder.”

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. A 6-foot, 180-pounder, Miller reported to Double-A Pittsfield (Eastern League) and played in 77 games, batting .262 with six home runs and 32 RBIs.

In 1970, when the Pittsfield franchise 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, he hit .247 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs.

In 1971 with Triple-A Louisville, he batted .247 again but hit a career-high 15 home runs and drove in 58 runs. He led the league in walks with 106 and strikeouts, 117. “I was taking a lot of pitches, but I was actually swinging for the fences,” Miller said. “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.” 

After Louisville’s season, Miller said, he was “an afterthought to be brought up.” He added, “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.’ They were a little weak in the outfield at the time and they knew what I could do defensively.”

Eddie Kasko managed 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, Miller played reserve roles in an outfield that had Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, Billy Conigliaro, and Joe Lahoud. In his first game, on September 4, 1971, Miller swung at the first pitch he saw from Cleveland hurler Phil Hennigan and lined 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,” he said. “It was a high fast ball, first swing and it went for a double off the Green Monster.” His home run was off another Cleveland pitcher, Rich Hand, in Cleveland Stadium. He wound up going 11-for-33 for the Red Sox.

In 1972, sharing time in an outfield of Yastrzemski, Smith, and Tommy Harper, Miller played in 89 games, usually as a late-game defensive replacement for Harper in center field. He hit three home runs with a .214 batting average. He was also voted the Red Sox “Unsung Hero of 1972” by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

By 1973 Yastrzemski had shifted to first base. The outfield was intended to be Harper in left field, Smith in center, and Dwight Evans in right. Miller played almost a full season, filling in for Smith after an injury and for Evans, who was in a slump. He batted .261 with career highs of six home runs and 43 RBIs in 143 games. He stole 12 bases, second on the team to Harper, who set a Red Sox record with 54 steals. The Red Sox Yearbook for the following season said Miller’s “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 Red Sox acquired Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo, major cogs in their 1975 American League pennant-winning season, in the trade with St. Louis for Smith and Ken Tatum.)

Miller said of his ability to play well in Fenway Park’s tough center field: “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. “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?’”

After the 1973 season Miller married teammate Carlton Fisk’s sister Janet Marie, whom he had met while the two players were teammates in Pawtucket in 1970. They had a son, Joshua.

In 1974 Miller played 77 games in center field, while Juan Beniquez, the previous season’s Minor League Player of the Year, played in 91. Miller again batted .261, and lost playing time in center field when Fred Lynn was called up in September.
          
At the end of the season the BoSox Club, the Red Sox’ booster group, named Miller its “Man of the Year,” citing his visits to hospitalized children in the Boston area. Miller said his parents’ experience losing a son to leukemia 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,” he said. “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. Thinking about my brother, we didn’t really talk about it, but that death really changed my parents.” 

Miller said he thought he would be the leadoff hitter in 1975, but manager Darrell Johnson chose 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, then took over the left-field slot. Miller played in 77 games, mostly when one of the other outfielder 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 Lynn and Rice in center and left, and with Dwight Evans solidifying his job in right field, Miller’s starts dwindled. Lynn posted numbers (21 homers, 105 RBIs, 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. Rice was becoming one of the game’s most feared sluggers with 22 home runs, 102 RBIs, 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.”  

Still, there were some bright spots for Miller. On April 12 he pinch-ran in the 13th inning and scored on a Doug Griffin single to beat Baltimore, 3-2. On June 4, again as pinch-runner, he scored the game-winner on a single by Rick Burleson as the Red Sox rallied from a three-run deficit to score four runs in the ninth and beat Chicago at Fenway Park, 7-6.

Miller had two at-bats in the World Series in pinch-hitting roles against the Reds, and recalled one at-bat in Cincinnati where he thought he had a 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.”

“Even as exciting as that World Series was, it was terrible because it rained so much,” Miller 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 wryly that his fondest memory of the World Series was playing cards during all the rain delays.

In 1976, because of injuries to Lynn, Miller played in 105 games and hit .283, his best batting average with the Red Sox. He played all three outfield positions, and was 5-for-17 as a pinch-hitter.

The 1977 season was the final year of Miller’s first stint with the Red Sox. He broke his left thumb when he was hit by a pitch thrown by Seattle’s John Montague, and was on the disabled list from May 3 to May 30. He hit .254 and made only one error in 79 games in the outfield.

Miller played without a contract in 1977 because he planned to become a free agent after the season. 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 Miller signed with the California Angels, becoming the first player to leave the Red Sox as a free agent.

With the Angels, Miller became an everyday outfielder in 1978, playing 93 games in center field and 36 games in right field, and won a Gold Glove. He batted .263. In 1979 the Angels won the Western Division title but lost to Baltimore in the American League Championship Series. Primarily the Angels’ leadoff hitter that season, Miller batted a career-high .293.

After the 1980 season, in which he batted .274, Miller was dealt back to the Red Sox in a trade that also sent third baseman Carney Lansford and pitcher Mark Clear to Boston for shortstop Rick Burleson and third baseman Butch Hobson. “It was good for me,” Miller said of the trade. “I was happy to go back. Boston is a great place to play baseball. California was a little more laid back, and not as exciting.”

Miller was Boston’s regular center fielder in the strike-interrupted 1981 season. His .291 batting average was his Red Sox high, .291. On May 11 he went 5-for-5 with a record-tying four doubles against Toronto. He was again named the “Red Sox Unsung Hero” by the baseball writers. He had another solid year in 1982, playing in center field between Rice and Evans and batting.254 in 135 games

In 1983 the Red Sox traded for Tony Armas, who took over in center field, and the 35-year-old Miller’s playing time began to wane. He played a little first base and also had a few games as a designated hitter, but by his final season, 1985, he played in only 41 games. (Miller also missed time with a hip injury that season.) Still, he had value as a pinch-hitter. In 1983, he was 17-for-36 (.472), and in 1984 was 14-for-53 (.264).

In his first few years away from baseball Miller worked with his financial adviser, then developed a promotional business dealing in autograph shows. Then, he said, a serendipitous moment after his father’s death 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.”

In 2004 Miller began an association with Colby Sawyer College as a volunteer assistant baseball coach. He also ran baseball clinics for youth sports programs throughout New England, and did charity work. In 2008 Miller managed the Nashua Pride of the independent Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball. Former Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach was the team’s hitting coach.

Miller moved to Florida in 2010. He made occasional appearances as Red Sox fantasy camps. In 2012 he was named manager of the New Bedford Bay Sox of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, and still held that post as of 2014.

Looking back at a career that brought him a reputation as a solid left-handed batter and an exceptional defensive outfielder, Miller said he knew 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.

 

Sources

Interviews by the author with Rick Miller on August 9, 2005, and June 17, 2014. All quotations from Rick Miller come from these interviews.

Reichler, Joseph L., editor, The Baseball Encyclopedia (New York: Macmillan, 1985).

Walton, Ed, Red Sox Triumphs and Tragedies (New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1980).

Walton, Ed, This Day In Boston Red Sox History (New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1978).

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

Diary of a Winner1975, Play By Play and Day By Day (Boston: Shamrock Publishing Co., Inc. 1975).

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.