On April 15, 1954, Baltimore welcomed its new big league team to town. More than 350,000 people lined the streets and stood, three-deep, in a cold drizzle to watch the Orioles’ parade.
On Charles Street, amid the procession of baseball floats, brass bands and beauty queens, a 12-year-old Irvington boy stood on his tiptoes, glove in hand, to see the players as they waved from a column of cream-colored convertibles.
And John Miller thought, That could be me someday.
He was right. Six years later, the Orioles signed Miller, a strapping 6-foot-2 pitcher out of Edmondson High who had dreamed of playing for his hometown team. And while his career was beset with sore arms and sour outings, Miller played five years for the Orioles, won a dozen games and earned a World Series ring.
“Those were good times,” said Miller, 69, of Mount Airy. “I just wish I could have survived [the injuries]. Back then, you threw as hard as you could and you took your chances that your arm would hold out. Some did. Mine didn’t.”
One of the first locals to make the Orioles, Miller seemed set for stardom after 1965, when he went 6-4 with a 3.18 ERA. A year later, seen as the club’s fourth starter behind Dave McNally, Steve Barber and Wally Bunker, he hurt his arm and lost his chance.
“Jim Palmer got the job and never looked back,” Miller said.
Miller stuck with the team, winning four games for the 1966 world champions, but it was a hard-luck season for the fastballing right-hander. In May, he blanked the Cleveland Indians for eight innings but left before the Orioles won, 1-0, in 13 innings. In August, Miller three-hit the Boston Red Sox for eight innings but was lifted again as Baltimore won in 12.
But his shoulder was shot. In 1967, he pitched briefly in relief, then was sold to the New York Mets. His big league days were done, but Miller never skipped a beat.
He traded one fireman’s job for another. Miller spent the next 28 years as a Baltimore County firefighter, driving Truck 13 out of the Westview station.
He saved lives where he had once saved games. And while the job was fearsome, it had its lighter moments, too.
“Once, I was driving the ladder truck down Security Boulevard and saw this guy making a call at a pay phone,” he said. “It was [Orioles slugger] Boog Powell. He was getting his car fixed at a filling station, so I pulled over and yelled, ‘Hey, Boog!’
“He climbed aboard, and I introduced him to all of the guys.”
Miller retired 12 years ago and moved to Mount Airy. Married 45 years, he has three children, five grandchildren and two dogs “who do nothing but bark and shed.”
Fishing and golfing are his pastimes. He’d as soon brag about the 43-pound rockfish he caught recently in Chesapeake Bay as he would his first Orioles victory — a hitless three-inning relief stint at Memorial Stadium against the Minnesota Twins in 1962.
Last year, at Rattlewood Golf Course near his home, Miller placed third in the club’s championship flight with a two-day score of 153. But don’t ask him to throw a baseball, or to shoot baskets in the driveway.
“I can’t even get the ball to the net,” he said. “I’m always at least a foot short.”
He still gets mail from autograph hounds, though some of it goes to the “other” Jon Miller, the one-time Orioles broadcaster who now does San Francisco Giants games.
“Jon said that when he gets mail for me, he just signs my name and sends it back,” Miller said.
And when folks ask whether he is Jon Miller the announcer, John Miller replies, “Nope — I’ve got hair.”
AP photo 1963