Bob Miller, longtime Detroit coach, member of 1950 Phillies 'Whiz Kids,' dies at 94

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Bob Miller, a Detroit native who was a pitcher for the legendary 1950 Philadelphia Phillies "Whiz Kids" team that lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series, and after his playing career returned to his alma mater, University of Detroit, to coach baseball for nearly four decades, died Friday night. He was 94.

Miller pitched for 10 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Phillies, from 1949-58 — sandwiched between two stints at Detroit, the first as a player, the latter as a coach.

Bob Miller played 10 seasons for the Phillies.

"What my dad told me not too long ago, he said, 'I've lived a charmed life, I got to live my dream from a little kid, which was to play pro baseball," said Bob Miller Jr., one of Miller's four children. 

"Nothing was more important to my dad than baseball and U of D."

One of his best seasons was 1950, when he was 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA in 35 games, 21 of which were starts, as the Phillies went 91-63 to win the National League. Fellow pitcher Curt Simmons is the last surviving member of that Phillies team. (Another teammate on that cast-of-characters squad, late first baseman Eddie Waitkus, was said to be an inspiration for Robert Redford's character in "The Natural" — having been shot by a fan at a hotel early in his career.)

In 1950, Miller recorded seven complete games and two shutouts, finishing second in National League rookie-of-the-year voting, to the Boston Braves' Sam Jethroe. Miller also made one start in the 1950 World Series, lasting two-thirds of an inning in the must-win Game 4 of the Yankees' eventual sweep. That was the lone postseason appearance of his career, which spanned 261 games, 68 of which were starts. He was mostly a reliever the rest of his career, and even closed games late in his career.

A 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander, he threw a shutout and had four hits in a game in 1953 at Chicago's Wrigley Field, the only man ever to do that at that historic ballpark. Also in 1953, Miller was the reliever who took over in the eighth inning of a game started by Michigan State alum and future Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts, who was working on a 28-game complete-game streak.

Miller pitched in the minor leagues in 1959, for the Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers (he also briefly was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, but never pitched for them in the minors or majors), before retiring.

In 1963, he took a job as an assistant coach for the University of Detroit baseball team.

His boss, head coach Lloyd Brazil, died in a car accident in 1965 and Miller took over as head coach, a job he held through the 2001 season. During his tenure, Miller's teams were was 896-780-2, his wins ranking in the top 30 in NCAA history, and tops for any baseball coach in Michigan.

Bob Miller coached baseball for nearly four decades at Detroit Mercy.

Under Miller, Detroit had winning seasons 25 of 36 years, making the NCAA Tournament in 1965 and winning a school-record 36 games in 1975. In 1997, it won its first Midwestern Collegiate Conference.

Sixteen Detroit players were drafted by MLB during Miller's coaching tenure, including son Pat in 1990, and two of them made the major leagues, Pete Craig and Dick Drago. His son Bob Jr. also played for him.

The job wasn't just coaching. He also mowed the baseball field's grass, laid the chalk, raked the field, and ran the tractor. He never had a paid assistant coach, so he did all the recruiting himself.

"He made hardly any money, and worked 60 hours a week," Bob Miller Jr. said. "He did it all himself, and he gladly did it because he loved U of D."

Miller retired after the 2001 season; in 2004, Detroit Mercy baseball was cut because of budget issues.

Miller played three sports at St. Mary's of Redford, including football and basketball. He had basketball scholarship offers, but out of high school he served four years in the U.S. Army, including in World War II. After his armed-services career, he attended Detroit Mercy and pitched two seasons, 1947-48. As a freshman, he was 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA; sophomore season, he had three wins. The Phillies then signed him.

Miller is a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (1999) and Detroit Mercy's Hall of Fame (1979). He was scheduled to be inducted to the Michigan Baseball of Fame, along with former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, in August, but the ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19.

Miller died of natural causes, and lived in West Bloomfield. He is survived by his four children, Thomas, Bob, Mary and Patrick. His wife, Maureen, died 20 years ago.

Funeral arrangements were pending Saturday afternoon, and a celebration of life will take place in 2021.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984