STU MILLER – 1963 Most Valuable Oriole
With a disconcerting head fake, and what The Sporting News called an “annoying assortment of slow pitches”, 35-year-old reliever Stu Miller became the first pitcher to take home Most Valuable Oriole honors in 1963.
Miller was an ERA leader and a two-time National League All-Star before coming to Baltimore, but the slight, 165-lb Northampton, MA native was perhaps best known for being blown off the mound by the swirling winds at Candlestick Park as he went into his pitching motion during the 1961 All-Star Game. Miller got the win in that contest, was the league’s best reliever that season, and pitched in the World Series for the San Francisco Giants the following year. Less than two months later, he was traded to the Orioles in a six-player deal involving “Fat Jack” Fisher. Within two hours of learning about the trade, the resourceful Miller agreed to swap his home in San Carlos, CA for Fisher’s abode in Baltimore during the baseball season.
Orioles fans took awhile longer to warm up to the trade. They already had 40-year-old knuckle-baller Hoyt Wilhelm in the bullpen, and wondered if Miller’s “butterfly concoction” of slow stuff wasn’t a bit reduntant. Even when Wilhelm was shipped to the White Sox a month later for Luis Aparicio, Baltimore rooters weren’t convinced they were any better off considering Miller had a sub par season in 1962.
Orioles manager Billy Hitchcock and pitching coach Harry Brecheen were quite pleased though, knowing they’d no longer have to worry about Wilhelm’s knuckler eluding the catcher with runners on base.
“Miller’s change of speeds are unbelievable,” raved Brecheen. He even has a change-up on his change-up. I was with him when he broke in with St. Louis in 1952, and he’s amazed me ever since.”
Miller wasn’t worried about his 5-8 record or 4.12 ERA in 1962 (after 14-5, 2.66 the year before). “My basic trouble was a lack of control. To get it back, I fouled up my delivery. My motion was different, and that helped the hitter pick the ball up quicker on the way to the plate. But I think I have a cure.” He spent the winter in the Arizona Instructional League and “pitched the soreness out” of his arm.
Miller saved a 3-1 Orioles victory on opening day in Washington, DC, throwing mostly change-ups, and his solid work helped lift the Orioles into first place through the first week of June. Despite his soft-tossing reputation, Miller insisted that he was throwing harder at age 35 than ever before, pointing out that he he’d added 17-lbs to his 5’11” frame since debuting as a 148-lbs rookie. He went on to strike out more than a batter per inning for the only time in his career, using his change-up to set up his “hard”one, though he didn’t consider it a strikeout pitch. Naturally, his teammates nicknamed him “Bullet”.
Unfortunately, the Orioles pennant chances were buried in a 8-22 avalanche that covered almost the entire month of June. Miller was not immune. Within a span of nine days on a miserable road trip, he blew his first two saves of the season, and served up a walkoff homer and a grand slam in Cleveland on consecutive days.
Soon, he was getting the ball down again though, resulting in an incredible stretch from July 5-20. The Orioles won nine games in those sixteen days, and Miller won or saved each and every one of them!
“He’s the most incredible pitcher I’ve ever faced,” said the Senators’ Don Lock after Miller struck him out to preserve a 4-3 Orioles victory. “Why, I never had a chance. I don’t know how anybody can hit him. I can’t even describe what he throws.”
The press got used to hearing Hitchcock say “Well, Stu did it for us again”, and Orioles President Lee MacPhail acknowledged “Miller has been phenomenal”.
Miller broke the Orioles club mark for appearances by a pitcher by the 147th game, and he worked in an American League record (at the time) 71 contests by season’s end. With 27 saves in 30 chances, a 2.24 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings, Miller became the first pitcher to win Fireman-of-the-Year honors in both leagues. Although teammate Steve Barber became the first 20-game winner in the modern Baltimore franchise’s history, Miller got four of six votes to out-poll him for Most Valuable Oriole honors, the first hurler so honored.
by MALCOLM ALLEN
NOTES: Stu Miller’s dominance in 1963 is even apparent in the three games in which he blew saves. All three times, he entered the game with the tying runner already in scoring position. Not only that, two of blown saves occurred when he came into the game with the bases loaded and nobody out!