Chris Holt is the current Orioles pitching coach. He wears No. 38. Cedric Mullins is the current Orioles center fielder and budding star. He wears No. 31.
As the news began to sink in that former O’s pitching coach and manager Ray Miller had passed away at the age of 76, John Means, a student of the O’s current pitching coach, took the mound 3,000 miles away in Seattle. In a salute to what pitching coaches can mean, Means pitched one of the very best no-hitters in the history of the game.
Means took 113 pitches to complete the game in Seattle. He struck out 12 and walked nobody. In point of fact, if not for the teacup size strike zone of home-plate umpire Tim Timmons, Means probably would have been able to turn the trick in under 100 pitches.
Time and again, Means would get squeezed by Timmons only to bounce back and strike out that batter two or three pitches later.
Means’ control was so good that of the 27 batters he faced, he threw a first-pitch strike to 26 of them.
For more on the special relationship between Means and Holt, please read PressBox’s April cover story.
Now back to the story of Miller and why Mullins (No. 31) is relevant to my remembrance of Miller and the special place this uniform number has in the Orioles’ rich pitching history.
A pat on the back to Orioles historian Bill Stetka for confirming my memory on the following — after the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954, the club’s pitching coach, Harry Brecheen, wore No. 31 until George Bamberger became the second pitching coach in club history in 1968 and wore the same number as Brecheen had. After 10 years, Bamberger was hired to manage the Milwaukee Brewers. Ray Miller came on board in Baltimore in 1978.
Well, if you are wondering what uniform number Ray Miller wore, you probably guessed by now that it was No. 31. Miller would wear that number until he was hired by the Minnesota Twins in June 1985 to be their manager.
All told, that means that Breechen, Bamberger and Miller held the grip on the position from 1954 to mid-1985 — a total of 31.5 years — and all three wore the same number. When Ken Rowe took over for Miller, he was given uniform No. 42. At least 16 men — including Miller and Holt — have manned the job since June 1985.
Think about the impact and consistency between the three No. 31’s and the lack thereof since. It’s no coincidence that the Orioles, from Steve Barber to Mike Boddicker, have had 10 different 20-game winners.
The game has changed remarkably since Miller left the Orioles that first time to try his hand at running his own club. It’s not the fault of any one pitching coach, but Miller was the last Orioles pitching coach to handle a 20-game winner (Boddicker in 1984).
On a personal level, I got pretty friendly with Miller in the early years I spent on the radio. In fact, in the time period after the Orioles won the 1983 World Series, I was very friendly with a couple members of the Oakland Athletics. I pushed for Miller to get their managerial job around the time the A’s hired Jackie Moore.
By the time they replaced Moore with Tony La Russa, Miller was well into his failed reign in Minnesota. After he took over for Billy Gardner in the middle of the 1985 season, Miller went 50-50. In his second and last season, Miller would go 59-80 before being replaced by Tom Kelly, who would take the Twins to World Series victories in 1987 and 1991.
After a decade-long run as pitching coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates while the great Jim Leyland was manager, Miller was coaxed to come back and replace Pat Dobson as Orioles pitching coach in 1997. Little did Miller know that he would take over as manager of the Orioles after Davey Johnson was not asked back for the 1998 season.
Miller finished his two years at the helm in Baltimore with an unimpressive 157-167 record.
But when you think of the top pitching coaches throughout the past 40 years, Miller is probably on the short list of the very best for his work in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles