Miller Was The Slowest Gun In The O's Bullpen

From The Toy Department Catching Up With ...

July 15, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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 the San Francisco Giants in 1963. For the next five years, the 5-foot-9 right-hander flummoxed American League sluggers and anchored a bullpen that ranked among the best.

He rang up 100 saves as an Oriole, won 38 games and pitched to an ERA 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 that 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 had 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 the Orioles acquired Frank Robinson, the one-time National League Most Valuable Player 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 had been lying on it, fast asleep.

"He [Drabowsky] livened up the bullpen, too," Miller said. "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 - his bladder was 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."

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