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Catching Up With ... former Oriole Stu Miller

Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "

At 81, Stu Miller has finally reached the age where his changeup is slower than when he pitched for the Orioles.

Has anyone ever thrown such lazy lobs with such success? Miller’s soft offerings baffled hitters for 16 years and made him one of the top relief pitchers in Orioles’ history.

A wisp of a player, Miller was already 35 when Baltimore acquired him from San Francisco in 1963. For the next five years, the 5-foot-9 righthander flummoxed American League sluggers and anchored a bullpen which ranked among the best.

He rang up 100 saves as an Oriole, won 38 games and pitched to an earned run average of 2.37. All with a money pitch that sort of moseyed up to the plate.

"One catcher said he could catch my stuff with a pair of pliers," Miller said from his home in Cameron Park, Calif. Another bragged he could catch it with his teeth. The Orioles teased Miller about his velocity and called him "Bullet."

How fast were his pitches?

"About 102 (mph), I guess," he said. "Really, my fastball was in the mid-80s, at most, and the changeup was a good 8 mph less. But both pitches looked the same, which was the secret to my deception."

That, plus an involuntary head feint that confused batters further.

The one thing I didn't do was to snap my wrist on the pitch," Miller said. "Both my head and arm screamed ‘fastball,’ but the ball just kind of fell off my fingers."

Batters flailed and fell on their keisters. Baltimore fans loved it, though Miller rarely smiled at the havoc he’d wrought.

"Only once did I laugh, and that was at (journeyman infielder) Don Zimmer," he said. "I threw the changeup and Zimmer swung – in perfect slow motion. He went all the way around, still missed the ball and then just dropped his bat on the ground.

"I turned my back, pretended to tie my shoelace . . . and broke up."

In 1966, when Baltimore acquired Frank Robinson, the one-time NL MVP told Miller, ‘I’m glad I’m on your team.’ "

That same year, the Orioles picked up Moe Drabowsky, the fun-loving reliever and a star of the 1966 World Series who became Miller’s roommate on the road.

"One night, Moe came in after having a couple of belts and flipped my mattress upside-down on the floor," said Miller, who’d been laying on it, sound asleep.

"He (Drabowsky) livened up the bullpen, too," said Miller. "He took a rubber snake out there because (catcher) Charlie Lau hated snakes, so Moe would toss it over Charlie’s neck. One night Charlie threw the snake in the stands, only to have the fans throw it back on Charlie, who then cut the thing up in about 15 pieces."

Miller’s life is tamer now. Married 57 years, he has six children, five grandchildren and a new lease on life. A cancer survivor – he had his bladder removed five years ago – he spends time doing crossword puzzles, answering fan mail and autographing pictures of the late Mickey Mantle, a Hall of Famer.

Mickey Mantle?

"I gave up Mickey’s 500th home run," Miller said with a sigh. "In five years, that’s the only homer he hit off me. A 3-2 pitch, low and away. Only two guys ever hit that pitch out, him and Stan Musial. Now I get letters every day asking me to sign Mantle’s picture."

Miller autographs every one.

"What the hell," he said, "it’s better than being not known."

Comments

The 1960s version of Jamie Walker! Love these "Catching up" columns. They should be published in bound book form. Nice archive of memories!

I always loved Stu when I was a kid. He was the only major leaguer who threw as slow as I did. Seriously, he was one of my all time favorites.

I remember one year Stu and Dick Hall started crediting themselves with "scares". A Scare was when the starter was in trouble, Stu or Dick warmed up in the bullpen, then the starter pitched out of trouble...because the other team was scared of Stu and Dick coming in. Don't forget Stu getting blown off the mound in SF at an All Star game by a gust of wind...causing a balk.

Dave,
Here's Stu's version of that balk incident during the 1961 All-Star Game at Candlestick Park:

"So I'm pitching in the ninth inning in my own park (he was then with the Giants), and the wind is whipping and swirling through there so hard that guys are dropping pop-ups.

"I went into the stretch position and was trying to anchor myself when this little extra gust came up and made me waver slightly. Nothing was said so I went ahead with the pitch. Rocky Colavito swung and missed.That's when the plate umpire motioned the runners to move up.

"I said, 'What the hell, that was no balk -- the freakin' wind just pushed me a little bit.' He shrugged and said, 'Rules are rules.'

"The next day, the newspaper had a banner headline, 'Miller blown off hill.' The sportswriters made it up because they hated Candlestick Park."

I remember him well. I was sitting with my friends in the left field bleachers at Memorial Stadium when he combined with the late Steve Barber for a no hitter in 1967 against the Tigers. We lost 2-1 because Barber walked 10. Stu was an awesome Oriole!

The best quote about Stu Miller came from catcher Choo Choo Coleman. "He threw me three pitches, I swung three times, I missed three times. But what you don't understand is this: the ball was THERE! I swung where it was. How could I miss it?" The quote was from David Plaut's book "Chasing October."

I remember one time Clete Boyer of the Yankees ran up in the batters box while the pitch was on it's way to home plate and still missed it. Stu threw the next one at his head.

These catching up pieces are the best part of the Orioles' coverage in the SUN . Keep these printing they are very interesting.

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