Friday, September 28, 2012

#439 - Norm Miller

Not terribly surprisingly this smiling mug belongs to one of baseball’s true characters. The title of his autobiography – “Norm Who?” – tells a lot about its subject. Norm is posing at Shea during one of those end-of-the-world days judging by the color of the sky. There was a really good chance Norm wasn’t playing that day as he only had eight at bats for the Braves all year. Too bad, too, because he put up six RBI’s in those at bats so by extension if he got up more he could have had a huge season. But by this season Norm’s back was shot and he was placed on the DL just a couple days after being picked up from Houston for Cecil Upshaw. He’d go on it again later in the season and by ’74 the injury would help derail his playing career for good This is his final card.

Norm Miller is another Southern California kid, he from LA and Van Nuys high school. At some point he attended Los Angeles Valley College, a two-year school, but I see no record of his playing ball there. He was signed by the Angels in ’64 when he was 18 so maybe he never did. At any rate, he did some nice hitting to start his career, tapping the ball at a .301 clip with 30 RBI’s and a .448 OBA in 53 games in A ball that summer. In ’65 he showed more power, putting up 20 homers and 92 RBI’s in Double A while he hit .289 with a .405 OBA. When he debuted for Houston later that season the umpire had to let him know that he still had his warm-up jacket on when he stepped to the plate. In ’66 he cooled off a bunch with a .245 and 30 RBI’s in Triple A along with some more at bats up top. In ’67 he shared a rookie card with Doug Rader, hit .406 with a .535 OBA in Triple A and began his MLB career in earnest.

Miller spent most of ’67 in Houston where he backed up Ron Davis in left field and unfortunately didn’t take too much of that Triple A stroke with him. In ’68 he boosted his average over 30 points as he took over the lion’s share of right field since that year Rusty Staub was forced to play first base. Norm held down that spot in ’69 when his best season included a .348 OBA. He also saw his profile raised a bunch retroactively that year when he roomed with Jim Bouton after the latter guy was traded from Seattle and Norm got considerable mention in “Ball Four.” Probably his funniest bit was when he claimed that since he was Jewish he would refuse to play on Jewish holidays, not because he was super religious, but because he happened to go o-fer on the ones in which he did play. In ’70 Houston did some shuffling in the outfield, mostly to allow rookie Cesar Cedeno playing time, and Jesus Alou and his .306 average moved across the field, pushing Norm back to a reserve role. Then in ’71 with the added rise of Bob Watson, Norm got more marginalized and only in ’72 would he again top 100 at bats. In early ’73 he went to the Braves for Cecil Upshaw and in ’74 after hitting .171 in 41 at bats he was released. He attempted to stick with LA in ’75 but that didn’t work so he was done, or done in by his bad back. He finished with a .238 average with ten homers and 160 RBI’s and a .323 OBA. In the minors he hit .284 with a .395 OBA.

Miller had relocated to the Houston area while he was playing for the Astros and moved into marketing there after playing ball. One of his first gigs was for Monterey House Restaurants, a local Mexican food chain. Back then – in the late Seventies – he also pitched batting practice for the Astros. Ten years later when Bouton caught up with him on the 20th anniversary of his book Norm was selling television ads for the Astros. He continues to work in that field, published his book in 2010, and since 2011 has had a local AM radio talk show. He too has a website that includes some YouTube videos and is linked to here.

This is one of the most lopsided card backs in the set which is about right for its subject. Norm also scored the only run to end a 24-inning marathon game against the Mets in ’68.

Since this will be the last post in September it is a good one on which to catch up on music news. In 1973, September 29th saw new Number Ones on both sides of the pond. In the US, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” took over for a week. In the UK, “Eye Level” by The Simon Park Orchestra began a four week run. As suspected, it is an instrumental – you have definitely heard this song someplace – that was the theme song to a BBC show called “Van Der Valk.” That series, which ran on – and mostly off – for about 20 years starting in ’72 was about a detective based in Amsterdam. Think of a European-stylized “Kojak.”

Ed Herrmann played for Houston a few years after Norm did, but they shared at least one teammate:

1. Miller and Cesar Cedeno ’70 to ’72 Astros;
2. Cedeno and Ed Herrmann ’76 to ’78 Astros.

No comments:

Post a Comment