Legendary Giant Stu Miller Passes
Former San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Stu Miller just died at age 87. Here’s the article from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman.
Stu Miller was sort of the Trevor Hoffman of his day, only in the days before teams had full-time closers. Miller had a terrific change-up on which he was particularly good at varying speeds and movement.
Even after the Giants had begun to realize his real value was in relief, they continued to use him his a spot starter, which allowed him to lead the National League in ERA in 1958, the Giants’ first year in San Francisco. The story goes that Miller would have led the Senior Circuit in ERA again in 1959, but that the League went back late in the season and changed a hit to an error which in turn changed an earned run to an unearned run for teammate Toothpick Sam Jones, who ended up beating out Miller 2.83 to 2.84. According to legend, the reason for the revision was that as a “junkballing” reliever who only just barely threw enough innings to qualify, the NL’s men-in-charge thought it would be bad for business to have the “wimpy” Stu Miller win a second consecutive ERA title.
Sam Jones was indeed a more impressive winner. He made 35 starts that year and he was big, hard thrower who threw just over 270 innings and struck out over 200 that year. It is worth noting, however, that along with his 35 starts, Jones also made 15 relief appearances and was retroactively credited with four saves. It’s also worth noting that while 50 of Miller’s 59 appearances were in relief in 1959, he was credited with only eight saves, since the closer role didn’t then exist, and the Giants brought Miller into the game anytime they thought he could help them, which included at five times when they brought him in to pitch in relief as early as the first three innings of the game.
By the end of July 1959, the Giants seem to have realized that Miller’s most effective role was in the bullpen full time. He made no starts after July 25th that season, and while he made three starts in 1960, those were the last three starts of his career.
Even after becoming a full-time relief ace, Miller still regularly pitched more than 100 innings a season, which caused him some inconsistency year to year, and is probably one of the reasons why he isn’t better remembered today, sort of a later version of Firpo Marberry, a terrific pitcher in the 1920’s who almost no one now remembers.
This was sort of the story of relief pitching in the 1960’s: at the beginning of the decade teams were just beginning to see the value of full-time relief aces, while by the end of the decade every team had a designated closer at least so long as they had someone up to the job. The problem was that top relievers routinely threw more than 100 innings per year and had a tendency to be inconsistent or get hurt after a few great seasons.
This trial and error process is a big part of the reason why top relief pitchers only throw 60 to 75 innings per year now. If nothing else, they are lot more consistent year to year than they once were.