Obituary: Bob Miller (1926-2020)

RIP to Bob Miller, a relief pitcher and one of the last surviving members of one of the all-time great Phillies teams. He died on November 27 from natural causes at the age of 94. Miller, one of four Bob Millers to play professional baseball, played for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1949-1958.

(The other Bob Millers: Robert W. Miller played in 1890-91 in the American Association; Robert Gerald Miller played for three teams from 1953-62; Robert Lane Miller played for 10 teams between 1957-74. All four Bob Millers were pitchers.)

Robert John Miller was born on June 16, 1926, in Detroit. He went to high school there, he went to college there, and when his baseball career ended, he spent almost 40 years as a college baseball coach there, too. The only thing that the lifelong National Leaguer didn’t do in Detroit was pitch in a major-league game.

According to his obituary in The Detroit News, Miller was a three-sport athlete at St. Mary’s of Redford High School, playing basketball and football as well as baseball. In 1943, Miller was named as a defensive end on the Detroit Free Press All-Catholic League team — he was also St. Mary’s best wide receiver. As a 6’3″ high school junior, he was an intimidating presence on the mound during baseball season. The baseball team won the First Division West Side title in Miller’s senior year of 1944, and he pitched the team to an 8-1 over St. Leo’s to win the title.

Source: The Evening Sun, May 11, 1950.

Miller said that the Detroit Tigers were interested in signing him while he was a high school pitcher. “But they beat around the bush too much after I lost two Catholic high school city finals to Art Houtteman in Briggs Stadium,” he said. The Tigers focused on Houtteman instead, and he would become an All-Star pitcher for the team.

Miller had to put his education and athletics on hold after high school graduation, as he was inducted into the Army. He served for a total of 26 months. Miller said he spent a month in combat on northern Luzon during six months in the Philippines. He then spent a year in Japan, where he pitched for the entire summer of 1946. After his discharge, he attended the University of Detroit Mercy for two years. He pitched on the school’s baseball team in 1947 and 1948.

Due to his military service, Miller was a 22-year-old sophomore in 1948 and decided to turn pro. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and was assigned to the club’s Class-B affiliate in Terre Haute, Ind. After some good relief work, Miller made his first start as a pro on June 10 and beat Springfield 9-3. All of Springfield’s runs were unearned, and Miller fanned 5 in the complete game win. He won 6 games for Terre Haute in 1948 and turned in an excellent season in 1949, winning 19 games and leading the league with 207 strikeouts. He was also one of the team’s better hitters, as he batted .268 with 5 home runs. It wasn’t a lights-out dominant year, as he gave up 255 hits in 255 innings and had an ERA of 3.95, but he still walked away with the Three-I League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He also earned a late-season call-up with the Phillies that year.

Miller threw a scoreless inning of relief against the Reds on September 16, 1949, in his major-league debut. He allowed 1 hit — a single to Ted Kluszewski. He appeared in 3 games and threw 2-2/3 scoreless innings with the Phillies.

The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, aka The Whiz Kids, are one of the most celebrated teams in Phillies history. Even with so many young, inexperienced players on the roster (hence the nickname), the Phillies won 91 games to clinch the NL pennant, the first time the team had finished first since 1915. The pitching staff was anchored by youngsters Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons (the last surviving Whiz Kid) and Miller. In his first full season, Miller turned in an 11-6 record in 35 games (21 starts), with a 3.57 ERA. He threw 7 complete games and 2 shutouts while posting an ERA+ of 113. Miller finished second to the Braves Sam Jethroe for the Rookie of the Year award.

Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer, left, with his Whiz Kids pitching staff: Curt Simmons, Robin Roberts, Bob Miller and Bubba Church.

The first win of Miller’s career came on April 29, 1950, and was a 2-1 victory over the Boston Braves. Boston’s only run came on a throwing error by catcher Stan Lopata — an old teammate of Miller’s from the Detroit American Legion days. Miller won his first 8 decisions before the Cubs tagged him with a loss on July 16.

Miller admitted that he was nervous at the start of the season. “But I’m gaining confidence with every game now that I’ve found major leaguers can be fooled just the same as in the minors.”

Miller wasn’t as effective in the second half of the season thanks to an ailing shoulder. He did start the Phillies’ 90th win of the season and pitched into the seventh inning before tiring. The Phillies were swept in the World Series by the Yankees, and Miller started Game Four. He didn’t last long, though. The Yankees leadoff hitter, Gene Woodling, reached on an error by second baseman Granny Hamner. He advanced to second base on a Phil Rizzuto grounder and scored on a single by Yogi Berra. Berra raced to third base on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Joe DiMaggio. That was enough for Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer, who removed Miller for reliever Jim Konstanty. The Yankees, backed by the pitching of Whitey Ford, won 5-2 to win the World Series.

Miller’s excellent rookie season was followed by two bad ones, and he bounced between the big leagues and the minors. He spent most of 1951 as a little-used reliever and accumulated a 2-1 record and 6.82 ERA in 17 games before he was optioned to the Wilmington Blue Rocks in August. In 1952, he made the Opening Day roster and allowed 1 run in 2 innings of work against the New York Giants before being sent to AAA Baltimore. He won 12 games with the Orioles and returned in September to make 2 more appearances, including an unsuccessful start against the Cubs.

Some of those struggles came from a couple of injuries. He injured his back in the second half of the 1950 season when he fell trying to catch a train at the North Philadelphia Station. Then he hurt his arm and wouldn’t be fully healthy until 1953. He began that season in the bullpen, but after Curt Simmons injured his foot in a lawn mower accident and was lost for several weeks, he moved into the starting rotation. Miller turned in an 8-9 record and an even 4.00 ERA in 20 starts and 15 relief outings. Many of those losses were hard-luck defeats, where the Phillies offense failed to support good pitching performances. He had 3 shutouts, including a 2-0 3-hitter against the Milwaukee Braves on September 9.

“I think I pitched the best ball I ever did over those last eight or nine weeks,” Miller later said.

Miller made 16 starts in 1954, but he began to see more work coming out of the bullpen. As a starter in ’54, he was 3-8 with a 4.96 ERA, but he was 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA as a reliever. Opposing batters hit .260 off him as a reliever but more than 50 points when he started a game. Miller would make just 7 more starts over the final 4 years of his career.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 18, 1956.

For the next three seasons, Miller became a very reliable reliever for new Phillies manager Mayo Smith. He made 40 appearances in 1955 and had a fine 2.41 ERA while earning an 8-4 record. He wasn’t a typical reliever who relied on strikeouts to get through innings — he had 28 K’s and 28 walks in 89-2/3 innings in 1955 — but he had the lowest ERA on the staff.

He could still make a spot start and do very well at it. One of the best games of his career came on August 25, 1956 — against the Milwaukee Braves. He retired the first 14 batters before Bobby Thomson lined a single to center in the fifth inning. Miller had to settle for a 2-hit, 3-0 shutout. Immediately after the game, he flew to Detroit to attend the funeral of his grandmother, so he couldn’t exactly enjoy the moment.

Between 1955 and 1957, Miller appeared in 121 games for the Phillies, with 7 starts, and had a 13-15 record with 12 saves. He also had an ERA of 2.84 and a WHIP of 1.230. He attributed his success to the fact that Smith used him exclusively in one role, instead of moving him in and out of the rotation constantly.

“When Mayo Smith told me [in 1955] that he planned to restrict me to relief work, I was more than satisfied,” he said. “I don’t care whether I start or relieve, but I don’t like the idea of doing both.”

Miller made it through his first outing of 1958 safely, pitching 2 scoreless innings against the Pirates on April 24. After that, though, he gave up runs in almost every other game in which he appeared, and he was soon relegated to a mop-up role. He picked up his only win on July 29 by shutting down the Cardinals for 2 innings, lowering his ERA to 9.00 on the season. Shortly after that, the Braves got their revenge for all the times he bested them and scored 6 times off him in 3 innings on August 10. It was his last appearance in the major leagues. The Phillies released him to the Miami Marlins of the International League on August 12, with an 11.69 ERA in 17 games and 36 hits allowed in 22-1/3 innings.

Miller played in a handful of games for Miami and was briefly property of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959 when they bought his contract in the offseason. That gave them two Bob Millers on the team, which would have made for some confusion had both made the team. The Cardinals returned Miller to Philadelphia, and he pitched briefly in the minors for Buffalo and Montreal before calling it quits at the end of the season.

In his 10-year career, Miller had a record of 42-42, with 15 saves. He appeared in 261 games and made 58 starts, with 23 complete games and 6 shutouts. He struck out 263 batters and walked 247, and he had a career WHIP of 1.382.

After baseball, Miller returned to Detroit and took a job as the assistant baseball coach at the University of Detroit Mercy. When head coach Lloyd Brazil was killed in a car accident in 1965, Miller took over the role and remained head coach until his retirement in 2001. The baseball program was cut by the college in 2004.

Source: University of Detroit Mercy Athletics.

Miller had a career record of 896-780-2 as coach of the Detroit Mercy Titans, the most wins of any coach in the program’s history as well as the most by any Michigan college coach. Sixteen of his former players were drafted by MLB organizations, and more than 40 others signed professional contracts. Several of his players, including Dick Drago, Bill Fahey and Pete Craig, reached the major leagues. His sons Pat and Bob Jr. both played for him as well.

Miller was inducted into the University of Detroit Mercy Hall of Fame in 1979, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. He received the John Conti Letterman of Distinction Award, which is given to former Titan athletes who go above and beyond at work and in the community, in 2011.

Chris Czarnik, a former Titan player who took over as head coach upon Miller’s retirement, said the following: “Coach Miller was a larger-than-life person to generations of Titan baseball players. He was the man that was watching from behind a distant fence at a remote ballpark on a hot and dusty summer evening, and when he saw a Titan, he knew it. Decades later, he could make a former player beam with pride by recalling that moment, ‘I remember the first time I saw you swing that bat; he would say, and bring alive a detail of a ringing double in Redford or Livonia or East Detroit – and how he wouldn’t leave your driveway that night until you told him you would be part of his team. He knew baseball before it could be measured. He loved the game and could feel it in his blood when it was time to squeeze a run in or when a struggling freshman needed a word of confidence. Coach also cherished his players and the University. He made teammates of us, linking generations, and captured an unforgettable era. He earned this legacy. But perhaps the thing I’ll remember coach most for is how his children looked up to him and how proud he was of them. You could see it in their eyes and hear it in his unforgettable voice. I know I speak for all Titans in expressing our love and condolences to his family upon the loss of this legendary man.”

For more information: The Detroit News

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4 thoughts on “Obituary: Bob Miller (1926-2020)

  1. Thanks for the article. Bill Fahey played catcher for Coach Miller in 1969 at the University of Detroit. He later played 11 years in the major leagues for at least three different teams, and he then had a professional coaching and managerial career in professional baseball.


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