Ray Miller passes away November 18, 2004
Miller made name in Negro League
If there's anything that former teammates remember, it's that with better timing Raymond Miller would have had a shot at the major leagues.
Miller, who once trained with a Cincinnati Red farm team in Cuba, played on a barnstorming team with the legendary Satchel Paige and is a member of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame, died Nov. 18 (2004).
Miller, 77, who lived in Lowell, played for five different Negro League teams in various leagues from 1943-54 and finally got his shot with a major league ballclub when he signed with the Reds at age 28 in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. By then, say former teammates, Miller's best playing days were behind him.
Roscoe Price, who played with Miller on the Louisville Black Colonels, said Miller, who was a power-hitting and fleet centerfielder, most reminded him of Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron. Like many Negro League players, Price believes Miller missed his chance at the majors because he didn't sign until many of his prime years were past.
"He was like a lot of players -- he could really play," Price said. "Back then there were a lot of players who'd play for whoever paid them, but we played for fun. He could hit and he could throw and run. He did everything."
Born in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky, Miller first played for the local Lebanon Junction Hustlers as a teen-ager. He played for a couple Louisville-area semi-pro teams until signing with the touring Alabama Zulu Cannibal Giants team. He played for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns and Louisville Black Colonels for the next two seasons before signing with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1945. He spent two years in the United States Navy before being discharged in 1946. He signed with the Detroit Black Sox and went back and forth between that team and the Kansas City Monarchs from 1947-54.
He signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1955 and trained with Red minor leaguers in Cuba. He played with the Reds' Texas League farmclub for one season.
Miller's widow, Carmen Miller, said her husband would play baseball for anyone who asked. He once played on a barnstorming team with Satchel Paige in California in the late 1940s and even played an exhibition game in Germany. He played in the Grand Rapids City Majors, including for Sullivans, for nearly a dozen summers after leaving the Reds organization. Miller is a member of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame Class of 2003.
"People would call and said they had a game and he'd go," Mrs. Miller said of her husband's passion for baseball. "He loved baseball. He loved playing it and he loved teaching it to others."
That's also how former teammates remember Miller. Ben Adams, who played with Miller on the Fox Jeweler's City League club, remembers Miller as capable of hitting long home runs.
"I was a little afraid to pitch to him because they told me he could hit the ball a long way," said Adams, who pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs. "He was a dead fastball hitter and I was a dead fastball pitcher."
One of Miller's former City League managers, Allan Baird of Zzanos, also played with Miller in the Tri-County summer league in the 1970s. He said Miller loved to talk baseball with the younger ballplayers.
"He was very instructional to the younger kids. He was a great hitter who knew a lot about the game, especially hitting," Baird said. "He liked to help kids become better players."
Ralph Palmer, who played with Miller on the Detroit Stars team, met Miller in 1954, just before he signed to play for the Reds.
"He was a terrific player. He had a good arm, a terrific arm, he could run and he was always hustling," Palmer said. "He would have been a major leaguer, no doubt about it. He had that natural ability, all of it."
Current Union girls basketball coach John Walker played with Miller on the Grand Rapids Black Sox team.
"He was one of my mentors. He taught me how to play second base," Walker said. "He showed me everything about the game."