Russell D. Niller Jr., 80, chairman of hotel supply, baseball player

September 10, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Russell D. Niller Jr., chairman of the Maryland Hotel Supply Co. and a pitcher with the International League Orioles in the early 1940s, died of a heart attack Friday at his Ocean City home. He was 80.

Mr. Niller was born in Baltimore and raised near Lake Montebello. He was a 1939 graduate of McDonogh School and captain of its baseball team. He attended the University of Virginia for a year before joining the Orioles as a pitcher in 1940.

At a 1942 War Bond exhibition game at old Oriole Park, Mr. Niller faced Bob Feller, a future Hall of Famer, who was pitching for the Norfolk Naval Training Center.

Before a crowd of 10,000, Mr. Niller took the mound for nine innings - and managed to out-pitch Mr. Feller, who was relieved after five innings. The Orioles won, 3-2.

"Niller was a picture of composure. He had a good, live fast ball and a curve that practically exploded," wrote the late John Steadman, who had witnessed the duel, in a News American column years later.

In 1942, Mr. Niller earned his commission as a lieutenant in the Army Air Forces and served as a bombardier on missions over Germany during World War II. When his plane was hit during a bombing run, he parachuted to safety, only to be rescued by Russian soldiers who mistook him for a German spy.

"He was physically beaten, and only after he showed them an American flag he had in his boot did they turn him over to the Red Cross," said a son, Russell D. Niller III of Hunt Valley, president of Maryland Hotel Supply, a wholesale meat distributor.

"Niller made it back. But he was never to throw a baseball again. In his parachute jump out of an exploding plane, he landed on his shoulder and tore apart all the ligaments and cartilage," Mr. Steadman wrote.

After the war, he went to work for his father, who had founded Maryland Hotel Supply in 1927. After his father's death in 1949, Mr. Niller became president of the business. Since 1992, he has been its chairman.

A longtime resident of Hampton in Baltimore County before moving to Ocean City, he was an avid golfer and a member of the Baltimore Country Club. In 2000, he was inducted into the Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mr. Niller had been a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Roman Catholic Church, 20 E. Ridgely Road, Timonium.

He is also survived by his wife of 60 years, the former Catherine Schall; another son, Rick Niller of Lutherville; three daughters, Cathy Doyle and Cory Rogers, both of Silver Spring, and Cindy Niller of Phoenix, Ariz.; and 10 grandchildren.

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