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Arizona Diamondbacks All Time Top 50: #33, Damian Miller

He was the main catcher on our World Series winning team. But I always felt like he was a former member of Devo. Er, just me, then... :)

Diamondbacks Media Day X
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 31.37 (10/50/36)
  • Seasons: 1998-2002
  • Stats with Arizona: 467 games, .269/.336/.437 = .773 OPS, 93 OPS+, 6.0 bWAR
  • Best season: 2000 - 100 games, .275/.347/.441 = .788 OPS, 95 OPS+, 2.0 bWAR

“The most important thing for me was being a good teammate. Do the little things right, be respectful to your teammates, to the other team and to the game.”
-- Damian Miller

Miller was an “original Diamondback” having been chosen by the team in the 1997 expansion draft from the Minnesota Twins, albeit not until the 47th pick. But when he eventually appeared for the team in May of our franchise debut the next year, it wasn’t as a catcher: his debut in the field came at first-base on May 16, and he also played right-field for the D-backs later the same month. But it was behind the plate where he settled in, eventually taking over from Jorge Fabregas. Miller appeared in an increasing number of games for the team each year from 1998 through 2001, when he played a career-high 123 times, including 111 starts at catcher.

On May 8, 2000, he was behind the plate as Randy Johnson’s battery-mate, when the Big Unit tied a major-league record by striking out 20 Cincinnati Reds batters in one game (above). Miller later recalled, “I remember the Reds not having a chance. His stuff was unhittable and he was locating everything. I remember after the game I went into the training room and when I came out, on my chair was the manager’s score card. Randy had signed it for me and left it on my chair. He didn’t have to do that, and I didn’t ask him for it. But I have it framed and it’s on my wall.”

[That would likely be one of the few pieces of World Series memorabilia to bear Miller’s name or likeness. For he crossed picket lines to appear as a replacement player during spring training in 1995, when the players’ union were still on strike. As a result, he was not allowed to join the MLB Player’s Association, whose licenses are required for the use of a player’s identity in merchandising. However, along with other players like Kevin Millar of the Red Sox, it appears Miller does get the other benefits of membership apart from licensing checks, such as the pension. He said, “It does sting, but it’s sort of a joke. There’s not much I can do... I still get a ring.”]

The following year, he was a mainstay of the D-backs as they won the World Series. Bob Brenly said, “He’s been the manager on the field. He eliminates a lot of things I have to do because of the way he handles the game,” and the team leaned particularly heavily on Miller in the playoffs. Despite a rotator cuff issue in his throwing shoulder, Damian started 16 of 17 post-season contests, the exception being Game 5 of the World Series. While he hit only .208, Miller’s ninth-inning bunt in Game 7 triggered a throwing error by Mariano Rivera, allowing the D-backs to put two on with nobody out. He was pinch-run for by Midre Cummings, who would score the tying run, before Gonzo’s bloop.

“Everything seemed to fall into place for us. It didn’t matter who Bob Brenly put in the lineup, or who pinch-hit late in a game, it was magic. Everything always worked out the way it was supposed to work out.”
Damian Miller

Courtesy of Brenly, the catcher made his one and only All-Star appearance the following year, being part of the infamous tied game at his namesake, Miller Park in Milwaukee. It was a dream location, as he as born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and grew up a Brewers’ fan. Damian made the most of it, going 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a run scored, becoming the last Diamondback to this point to have a multi-hit All-Star Game. However, the honor proved somewhat costly for the D-backs, because when he heard the news, Mark Grace broke his toe on a couch, while walking across the clubhouse to congratulate Damian.

On his return, Miller’s production declined, not helped by missing 21 games due to a back injury, which put the otherwise durable catcher on the DL for the first time in his pro career. The team began to go more with younger catcher, Chad Moeller and that winter, seeking to cut salary [Damian had earned $2.65 million in 2002, and was eligible for arbitration] dealt Miller to the Chicago Cubs. In exchange, they received minor-league players Gary Johnson and Dave Noyce, neither of whom reached the majors. Miller helped handle a Cubs staff including Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, and Carlos Zambrano, and helped them reach the NLCS. #Bartman...

After a season in Oakland, Miller’s MLB career finished with a three-year, $8.75 million contract from his hometown team in Milwaukee. When he retired, following the 2007 season, Damian returned to the West Salem area of Wisconsin where he grew up, and which had been his off-season home throughout his career. He now has more time for his family, as well as other interests such as hunting and golf. Though always a private person, Miller is still active around the local baseball community there, coaching both at Coulee Christian High School and the local 16U legion team. But in Arizona, he’ll be remembered as perhaps the most blue-collar member of that World Series team.

“I don’t think we had any hopes that he would [play professionally]. We enjoyed seeing him play, and that was enough for us. He never was a world-beater, but he persevered.”
— Damian’s father, Tom Miller