Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stu Miller

Yesterday was opening day for the Giants, and they had players there who over the SF years made the All-Star team. Of course this is to commmemorate having THE game in San Francisco this summer. Guess who threw out the first pitch? None other than one of my all-time favorite Giants, Stu Miller.

It is interesting that he is up there along with Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, and yes, both Bondes(Bobby and Barry) as one of my all-time favorites. He is best known as the pitcher who was blown off the mound during a national telecast of the last All-Star game played in San Francisco.

Lon Simmons introduced him, and, rightly said that at the time(1961) he was the best relief pitcher in baseball.And he was. He was also the Giants stopper in their pennant winning season of 1962. In '63 he was traded, along with Mike McCormick to the Orioles in what is one of the all-time worst trades in Giants or baseball history. Miller continued to be a dominant relief pitcher in the AL for years, while the Giants struggled to find another to replace him.

Miller was not your typical closer of today. He was used differently. He might come into a game not to record the last three outs, but to stop a rally in the late innings. He might go as long as 3 innings. In 1961 he lead the whole team in victories(14) besting even a very young Juan Marichal(13 wins).

Miller's approach was also very different, if even on the surreal side. Every body in the majors has to have the eye and bat speed to handle a big league fast ball. Their is a certain timing you must have or you are out of the majors. Miller pitched in reverse. He had a wind up that drew the batter in and set him up for an assortment of slow curves and change-ups. He was so different than any other pitcher that it was almost impossible to adjust. Your very instinct towards bat speed was used against you. Miller changed the game to the point where it became almost surreal. Batters would swing and miss at his slow pitches just like attackers trying to hit Osensei. Time and space became his play things. Power hitters would move up in the batter's box and start swinging off their front legs just trying to make contact. And they would still be out in front of his deliveries. It was said that he threw at 3 speeds: slow, slower, slowest. One batter said he had Miller's delivery figured out."He throws it with his fingers, one finger at a time!"

I personally was fascinated by him. Osensei talked about "katsu hayabi", that speed which transcends time and space. Osensei seems on video so relaxed and moves just at the right time. Miller held a certain fascination for me way before I learned about Osensei and aikido because of his way of seeming to alter time and space. Among athletes the only other one who had some of this Miller-type magic was Chris Mullin. Mullin in his earlier days could beat you off the dribble for no discernible reason. You had to play up on him because he was a deadly shot, but he also could use a defenders defensive instincts against him. So as much as I am fascinated by the Michael Jordans and Sandy Koufaxes of the world, I am at least equally mesmerized by the Chris Mullins and Stu Millers of the universe. Before I go any further, I have to mention Earl Monroe and his la la moves also fits into this category(see earlier blog).

And Miller was not afraid to challenge a hitter. I remember being at Candlestick Park in 1961 for a game against the then Milwaukee Braves. The Giants were leading by a run with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the ninth, when Miller was brought in to relieve a very young Juan Marichal. He was facing a very good(and i believe an all-star calibre player) hitter in 2nd baseman Frank Bolling. And lurking in the on deck circle was none other than Henry Aaron. The thing on Miller was that the longer the at bat lasted the greater the possibility you could time one of his pitches and get a hit. Bolling kept fouling2 strike pitches off. And contact fouls started to become lined shots foul. Miller adjusted by going even slower. But the at bat was lasting way past the comfort point for me and other Giants fans. The thought in the back of our minds was"What if he finally gets a hit and ties the game, then Aaron would be up to win it?". So finally Miller decided the matter by blowing what was probably a 70 mph fast ball right past Bolling! It was a sweet moment. Congratulations to Stu Miller on throwing out the first pitch of the 2007 season!


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