SABR

Dee Miles

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

It might have been the coal mines or baseball. Dee Miles had the talent and probably made the right choice. His father, Gustavus Miles, was a coal miner from Alabama who worked a couple of decades in the mines, becoming a mine foreman by 1920. He and his wife, Idella, a Tennessean by birth, had at least six children and the eldest of those became a miner, too. Wilson Daniel “Dee” Miles was the fifth child in the family, born in Kellerman, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, on February 15, 1909 – though his record showed 1911 for many years. Grammar school was in Dolomite, Alabama, and he graduated from Hueytown High School in Hueytown, Alabama, both Dolomite and Hueytown being communities closer to Bessemer. Miles had captained the Hueytown High football team as well. He played semipro baseball in the area, including time for the National Bridge Company team in Birmingham’s Magic City League.

The first time Miles played in Organized Baseball it was for the Chambersburg Young Yanks in the Class D Blue Ridge League, in 1930. It was a brief six innings of pitching, in which he gave up 13 runs and suffered two losses. As best we can tell from available records, that was his only work of the year. In 1932, he went to spring training in Bradenton, Florida, with the St. Louis Cardinals and was assigned to Mobile, but the Southeastern League folded after he was 1-1. Miles spent the rest of the year pitching for the Monroe (Louisiana) Twins (Cotton States League). This time he got into ten games and won two, while losing three. He had an earned-run average of 5.14 in 49 innings, however; the Detroit Tigers had brought him to the Motor City to look him over in 1932, but with a $1,000 signing fee on the line, they declined to sign him. It’s interesting that it was Bucky Harris of the Tigers who made the call. Just three years later, Harris was Miles’ manager in Washington when Dee came up to the big leagues.

Both the Chambersburg and Monroe teams were Class D teams, in Pennsylvania and Louisiana respectively. Again in 1933 Miles was out of Organized Ball, seeming to work only in even-numbered years. He was playing semipro baseball for the Buck Creek Cotton Mills team when he was followed and signed by Washington Senators scout Zinn Beck. Though Miles had thrown a no-hitter back in a game at Siluria, Alabama, during his days in semipro ball, his return in 1934 was as an outfielder, after one of his managers converted him because of a little bit of wildness as a pitcher and thanks to his abilities with the bat. For the rest of his career he played the outfield, though he was often used as a pinch-hitter.

Beck signed Miles to a Chattanooga contract for 1934, and urged him to stick to the outfield.i Miles was first farmed out to play for the East Dixie League’s Baton Rouge Red Sticks. (The team relocated to Clarksdale, Mississippi, on June 11, and became the Clarksdale Ginners.) In 66 games for Baton Rouge/Clarksdale, Miles hit for an exceptional .354 average and was promoted to Chattanooga, jumping from C ball to the Class A Southern Association. Playing for the Lookouts in 52 games, he hit .275. He was invited back for 1935 and built on his experience to put together a very good year, hitting .331 for Chattanooga and then being called up to play for Washington. The “sensational young outfielder” was said to have “the greatest throwing arm in the Southern Association.” ii On a questionnaire Miles completed for the American League Service Bureau, he said he had initiated a triple play from the outfield in a game in the East Dixie league, and had nine double plays to his credit. (He also claimed to have been born in 1912.) Though the Senators’ greater need at the time was for a pitcher, manager Bucky Harris was very much looking forward to seeing what the left-handed hitter could bring to the offense.

Miles’s first game in the major leagues was on July 7, 1935. For the season he held his own with a .265 batting average in 225 plate appearances over 60 games (but hit .364 in pinch-hit opportunities). He got his first hit in the first game he played, but not before he’d misplayed a ball that cost two runs. The Washington Post’s Shirley Povich said Miles charged in on Tony Lazzeri’s ball to right field, “quit cold on the ball, then resumed his rush, and made an ineffectual dive for it as both runners scored.” The Yankees won the game, 11-1, which may have explained Povich’s sneer that the hit Miles made in the bottom of the first inning was a “useless single to center field.” His feelings may also have been colored by the leadoff batter, Joe Kuhel, who played a sure triple into an easy out at the plate, out by at least a couple of yards while going for an inside-the-park home run.

Miles collected a hit in each of the first five games he played, with a 4-for-5 game (with three RBIs) on July 13 and a 3-for-5 game (with another pair of RBIs) in the next game after that, on July 15. After five games he was hitting .455 with eight runs batted in – but he’d cost them another game with poor fielding. Povich again: “Young Miles stood out in right field apparently quite enthralled by the big league scene and neglected to bestir himself on Lyn Lary’s lazy pop fly until the ball was far out of reach. A spectacular dive for it at the last moment netted him only a mouthful of grass and thus it was that the winning run scored on a gift double.”

While there was no way Miles’s hitting was going to maintain that pace, he improved on his fielding and was invited to play in another 498 major-league games over seven seasons before his career came to a close. His lifetime batting average in the majors was .280 (with only two home runs), and his fielding percentage (admittedly not covering range or errors of judgment; neither July misplay was ruled an error) was a good .971. During the winter Povich wrote that Miles’s problem was getting a good break on fly balls, that he was quite good at roaming to his right but had real difficulty breaking toward balls hit to his left.iii Coach Earl McNeely was assigned to work with him, but it was a challenge.

Miles began the 1936 season with the Senators. He failed to get a hit in his first three pinch-hit roles, but he had multihit games in the first three in which he was in the starting lineup. Miles wasn’t able to get the regular work that Bucky Harris felt he needed and so on July 2, he was optioned to the Albany Senators. He was hitting .260 at the time but in 15 of his 25 games he’d been used in pinch-hit roles. With Albany he got into 68 games and hit .327. He was brought back up for three games in August but otherwise spent the remainder of the year with Albany. When the season was over, he enjoyed a September wedding with Kathleen Frances McBride (a former champion typist from the state of Montana, who was working as a court reporter for the Civil Service Commission in Washington.)iv

It was Chattanooga again for full seasons in 1937 and 1938, where Miles batted.328 and .309 with nine homers each year. In August 1937 Senators owner Clark Griffith sold the Chattanooga franchise, but he maintained an option on many of the players. He recalled Miles in September, but only on paper. Miles was not brought to Washington. In December a sale of ballplayer contracts was held, and Miles was sold to Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics for a reported $25,000.v

After a holdout, Miles was the last player to sign his 1939 contract. He started on Athletics’ second-string team during the exhibition season, but made the first string and played all season long, appearing in 106 games and batting an even .300. He made his first major-league home run count, a two-run pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the tenth beating the White Sox 4-2 on September 14. Those two runs were the last of the 37 runs Miles drove in that season. He scored 49 runs.

There were still occasional flubs in the outfield. On July 2, 1940, an easy fly ball off Bobby Doerr’s bat was met with an “Alphonse and Gaston act staged by ancient Al Simmons and young Dee Miles.” Either could have caught the ball and retired the side, but neither touched it and as it fell to the ground, all three baserunners scored – and then the Boston Red Sox’ Joe Cronin homered to drive in Doerr. Miles played in 88 games that seson and hit for a .301 average. The only other home run he hit in the major leagues counted for something, too – the only run scored in a 10-1 loss to the Tigers in Detroit on September 19. Just two days before, however, he’d made headlines for a “sensational” catch that ensured the Athletics would beat the Indians.vi

Miles hit .312 in 1941, but was used more in pinch-hitting roles. He appeared in 80 games with 170 at-bats. His third consecutive pinch-hit gave the Athletics the second game of the May 24 doubleheader against the visiting Senators. With 14 pinch hits (in 43 attempts), Miles was the only American Leaguer with more than ten.

He played in 99 games in 1942, and got almost double the number of at-bats he’d had in 1941, but his .272 average was down considerably after three straight seasons of .300 or above. The Post’s Shirley Povich still wouldn’t let up, commenting in May that Miles had supplanted Bob Johnson in right field but adding, “He hits well, throws well, moves fast on the bases and in the outfield, but he lacks aggression and otherwise is not rated as very smart.”vii After the 1942 season the Athletics traded Miles and some money to Seattle for Jo Jo White. Miles was working in a defense plant in Bessemer, Alabama, and said he would refuse to report.viii He intended to keep the job and play semipro ball, but somehow was in touch with Red Sox manager Joe Cronin and, in Harold Kaese’s words, Cronin gave him a “fight-talk” and told him “he wasn’t the ball player he should be.”ix This fired him up and on April 21, 1943, he and his family turned up in Philadelphia, ready to play for the visiting Red Sox. He appeared in 45 games, starting on April 24, but hit an anemic .215 and after July 5 was shipped to the San Francisco Seals as part of Boston’s purchase of Catfish Metkovich. He was candidly considered a throw-in, with some speculation as to whether he’d report, given his refusal to play on the Coast for Seattle. He joined the Seals, but he suffered a broken ankle and appeared in only eight games, 8-for-31 (.258), and thus concluded his baseball career. The ankle was slow to heal, and even though the Seals had generously awarded him a full share of their earnings in winning the Pacific Coast League playoffs, he let it be known early in 1944 that he would not report.

Instead, Miles joined the Navy and reported to the Bainbridge Naval Training Station, near Baltimore, host to an active service-ball team. The ankle still not being fully healed, and Miles saying he had numerous other duties in the Navy, he sat out the Commodores baseball season, too. That winter, he ended up serving in the Pacific and played for one of the baseball teams there, stationed at the same base as Virgil Trucks. He was in the Navy during 1944 and 1945.

Miles had typically worked during the offseasons as a mechanic. After baseball he took up employment with the Fruehauf Trailer Co., working as a sales manager. After retirement he was president of the Birmingham Motor Truck Club. Miles died of lung cancer at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham on November 2, 1976. He was survived by his wife, Kathleen; their son, Wilson Jr.; daughter, Rosalie (Mrs. Michael D. Jones); his sister; and three brothers.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Miles’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i The Sporting News, June 24, 1941.

ii Washington Post, July 5, 1935.

iii Washington Post, July 5, 1935.

iv The Sporting News, June 24, 1941.

v New York Times, December 3, 1938, and Washington Post, January 24, 1939. Retrosheet.org reports that the trade had been consummated on August 9 and cost the Athletics the services of Bill Nicholson and $30,000.

vi Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1941.

vii Washington Post, May 27, 1942.

viii Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1943.

ix Boston Globe, April 22, 1943.

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