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All-Star Diamondbacks, #4: Damian Miller Comes Home

3B Mike Lowell of the Marlins watches the play after scoring as catcher Damian Miller runs towards home plate during the MLB All Star Game July 9, 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee (Photo By Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
3B Mike Lowell of the Marlins watches the play after scoring as catcher Damian Miller runs towards home plate during the MLB All Star Game July 9, 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee (Photo By Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Only two Diamondbacks have ever had multi-hit All-Star Games, and neither was the first names you might expect: Luis Gonzalez, the only position player to represent the team in multiple ASGs at the time of writing, never managed it, despite his five appearances there. Instead, Damian Miller did it, going 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles in the 2002 encounter, which took place, appropriately enough, at Miller Park in Milwaukee. It was his only appearance at an All-Star event, and also brought Miller back to his roots, as he was born and brought up in La Crosse Country, about 200 miles west of Milwaukee.

Miller was originally a Twins prospect, but was selected from them by the D-backs with the 47th pick in the expansion draft, and appeared in 467 games for us between 1998 and 2002, including being Randy Johnson's battery-mate when he struck out 20 hitters. He appeared in six games of the 2001 World Series, laying down the ninth-inning bunt in Game 7 that Mariano Rivera threw away. However, his name will not be found on any of the official 2001 World Series merchandise. Miller was not part of the player's union, having acted as a replacement player during the 1994 strike. [In MLB: The Show, the name "Chris Gill" was used for Miller!]

He certainly had a solid season for Arizona in 2001. Miller batted .271 with a career-high 13 home-runs, and picked up 1.7 bWAR, ahead of regulars like Steve Finlay, Matt Williams and Tony Womack. 2002 started off even better, and at the break, he had an .824 OPS, with nine long-balls already. That put him third in the league in OPS by catchers, trailing only the Dodgers' Paul Lo Duca and Mike Piazza, who had 18 HR, a .922 OPS and a runaway winner in the fan vote, with 278% of the votes received by second-place Benito Santiago. Miller finished fifth, which tied him with Mark Grace for the best performance by an Arizona player on the ballot that year.

However, the ace in the hole was Bob Brenly, who managed the NL squad due to the D-backs victory in the World Series the previous year. The result was a whopping six Arizona players named to the 2002 roster, though to be fair almost all the choices could be justified. As well as our dynamic pitching duo of Johnson and Curt Schilling, and ever-present Luis Gonzalez, three players got to make their only appearance at the All-Star Game. As well as Miller, Byung-Hyun Kim (2.34 ERA and 22 saves in the first-half of 2002) and Junior Spivey (.328/.414/.552, a .966 OPS!) got their moment to shine.

Not everyone was happy by Brenly's picks. In particular, the Dodgers were not impressed by the decision to leave off Lo Duca, in favor of Miller and Santiago. Colleague Eric Karros said, "Lo Duca's got a legitimate gripe, That? That's a joke. When you take three guys, he should have been one of them... We know how important he is to this ballclub, and arguably he's probably been the most important player on this team." Brenly responded, "Paul Lo Duca's having a great year. There's no question about that. So is Larry Walker. So is Brian Giles. I could go on and on. You could pick an All-Star team from the guys that were left off the All-Star team.''

Miller's selection was not without its cost to the Diamondbacks. When first-baseman Mark Grace heard the news, he was heading across the  locker-room in Cleveland to offer his congratulations, when he stubbed his toe on a pesky, apparently Stealth-enhanced couch, breaking it. That has got to be right up there with some of pitcher Brian Anderson's bizarre ways to get hurt, forcing Grace to stress to the media, "I'm telling you the truth. I wasn't riding a motorcycle or washing my car." However, he just splinted it up and didn't miss any time.

Though Miller was not the starter, circumstances resulted in him playing for longer than Piazza. He replaced the Mets icon after four frames and stayed in the game until being replaced by a pitcher at the start of extra innings, Santiago moving behind the plate after his pinch-hit. He tied an All-Star Game record with two doubles in his three at-bats, getting them off Mark Buerhle in the fifth, then Kazuhiro Sasaki in the seventh. The first drove in a run, the second led to Miller crossing home-plate too. He grounded out off Rivera in the ninth, but the AL also ran wild against Damian, stealing three bases.

The appearance was basically a dream come true for the Arizona catcher. "I grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan and am still a Brewers fan," he said. "These are still my Brewers. My dad and my brother still listen to Bob Uecker every night and I check the box score every morning to see how the Brewers did the night before. It was great timing, getting a hit in my first at-bat with a lot of family and friends watching. I just wish the outcome would have been different." For, of course, the game is now mostly infamous for the botch-job which result in it ending in a tie after 11 innings. But Miller didn't really seem to mind that:

"All I can say is it was quite the experience, being able to hang out in the clubhouse with these players, the best players in the world. It would be hard to top this for personal goals."
   -- Damian Miller

One final bit of synchronicity involving Miller, when he played for Milwaukee. The Brewers organize an annual 'La Crosse Area Day', in which thousands of fans from the county head to Miller Park for a game. In 2006, the townsfolk were peeved to make the three-hour trip, only to find local hero Damian Miller not in the line-up. So, in advance of the 2007 excursion, they reminded manager Ned Yost, and the decision paid off, Miller smacking a three-run walk-off homer in the 11th. He said, "It's one of those things that I'm sure everybody would like to experience. When you hit it and see it go out, you're basically floating around the bases, and then you realize that your hometown's out there."