The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Doubles, More Doubles, and Norm Miller

When I first began collecting baseball cards as a kid back in 1974, it quickly became apparent that the Topps Chewing Gum  Co. had a bit of a problem with quality control.  Not that I understood what that term meant, exactly, but the baseball cards themselves were often off-center, of varying degree of glossiness and / or brightness, and sometimes included print-spots that resembled extra-large zits on player’s faces.

To my young mind, worse than any of the above grievances was the issue of coming across the same faces numerous times, pack after wax pack.  Try as I might to come up with a Johnny Bench or a Reggie Jackson, invariably I would pull a Ray Fosse, a Jack Brohamer, or a Tom House.

Or, most frustratingly, for (literally) my money, a Norm Miller.

Norm Miller Atlanta Braves (Baseball Card) 1974 Topps #439

Norm Miller was a backup outfielder for the Atlanta Braves.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, Miller, age 28, was entering his swan-song season in the Majors.  He broke in with the Astros in 1965 at age 19, but whatever the Astros first saw in this presumably hustling teenager, the bloom had long since faded from this particular flower.

The less sagacious Atlanta Braves, however, appeared to believe that there was still reason enough to carry Miller’s light bat at the end of a thin bench.  From that vantage point, at least Miller got to witness firsthand Henry Aaron’s final assault on Ruth’s home-run record.  There are worse ways to earn a living.

Perhaps subconsciously I was also coming to terms with the realization that, an aspiring outfielder myself, and also part of the vast and influential Clan Miller, I might also never amount to anything more than a backup outfielder with underwhelming statistics.

Miller’s citrus-smile mocked me throughout the last half of the ’74 school year, and the entire baseball season.  He looked like a man who wasn’t exactly a ball-player, but was happy enough to be wearing one of those uniforms, anyway.  His non-threatening, every-man demeanor was as reassuring as it was distressing.  Suppose I should strive and aspire to someday be someone — a man of note — only to be revealed to all the vast public as an impostor?

From mid-March, when I began collecting baseball cards, Norm Miller became the one constant in my life.  He followed me into my sleep, and into my dreams.  I was shagging fly balls in a perfect pasture of an outfield, when a Braves bullpen coach shouted at me to get off the field, grab a broom and start sweeping the dugout.  Ralph Garr mocked me as he sauntered over to the batting cage.  Johnny Oates flicked dirt from his cleats onto my little corner at the end of the bench.

Doubles, we called them.  Whenever you got two or more — it didn’t matter how many — of a certain card, we called them doubles.  I think perhaps some people still do.

In school, Miller became the answer to some of my math problems.  12×12?  No sweat.  That’s the pile of Norm Miller baseball cards on my bedroom floor.  If Norm Miller traveled on a train from Atlanta to Cincinnati at 15 miles per hour, and if Rowland Office was traveling from Atlanta to Chicago at 25 miles per hour, and you knew that Miller was going to go 0-4 with two strikeouts in the second game of a double-header, how many times would you play him for the rest of the year?

For my eleventh birthday in May, a Norm Miller birthday cake, not a Billy Miller birthday cake, should have been set on the table for all the children in my neighborhood to enjoy, each little candle a bat splinter from his Louisville Slugger.

Once, I even got two Norm Millers in one pack.  I’m ashamed to admit I began littering the ground that summer with unwanted Norm Miller cards on my way home from the A&G Market, my local grocery store of choice.  I wanted to ask Ann and Gus why they kept sticking Norm Miller cards in every single pack they sold me, but I was too young and still too intimidated by adults to be so rude.

If you were to dig up any section of asphalt on Bridgeport’s west end, I’m confident that even today, you would turn up a soiled and battered Norm Miller baseball card, his smile forever fixed on whatever it was he was focused on at that particular moment in his life.  Had he just finished a nice pancake breakfast?  Were his eyebrows clipped just the way he liked them?  Was there a cute girl waving at a player behind him, and he mistakenly thought she was a fan of his?

Norman Calvin Miller, I estimate that you owe me at least $12.50 for all the dimes I spent on you back in the summer of ’74, and I won’t even figure in inflation.  When you read this, and I know that you are still keeping tabs on my life, please leave the envelope full of dimes on the top of my bureau at my old address in Bridgeport.  I’m confident that it’ll find me.

In his final career at bat, on September 16, 1974 at Candlestick Park, Norm Miller, pinch-hitting against Giants pitcher Jim Barr, struck out.  I like to think he went down swinging, for all of us.

Advertisements

Single Post Navigation

23 thoughts on “Doubles, More Doubles, and Norm Miller

  1. You just gave me a Tito Fuentes flashback. In 1970 I bought pack after pack, hoping for World Champion Mets inside. Fuentes, squaring to bunt, looked back at me constantly that year.

    I hadn’t thought about him in years!

  2. My “Norm Miller” was Joe Verbanic, allegedly (according to the card, at least) of the Yankees. I had a LOT of Joe Verbanic cards in the 1970 Topps card. I never even SAW Joe Verbanic pitch, even though I lived in the New York Metropolitan area.

    That’s a bad photo of Norm Miller!!! I didn’t even know that he played for the Braves. When I picture Norm Miller (who I DID see play many times when the Astros played the Mets), he had the long sideburns that were so common at the time. That’s a pretty lousy and atypical picture of Norm Miller! He looks like he’s about to burst out laughing, or, as you mentioned, sucking a lemon, or both sucking a lemon and holding back a laugh at the same time.

    He’s also mentioned in either Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” or “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally” as the guy as his teammate on the Astros who was regretful that he never had a Bar Mitzvah. (Speaking of Richie Scheinblum, who W.K. mentioned, he was ALSO a Jewish guy—– from my father’s home turf, The Bronx. I was always GLAD to get his card, as there were so few Jewish baseball players while I was growing up. At the time I was still collecting cards, though, I hadn’t been aware that Norm Miller was Jewish.)

    Glen

    • Hi Glen, Wow, I’m finding out more of Norm Miller’s past today than I ever dreamed possible. So he’s Jewish? Huh, I didn’t know that. Also, either forgot or never noticed that he’s mentioned in a Bouton book. I may have to begin an unauthorized biography of Norm Miller. The plot thickens…
      Thanks, man,
      Bill

    • I wish I would have known at the time, Glen–I would have shipped you a dozen Scheinblums and still have a couple to spare

  3. Norm!

    Thanks for making me laugh so early today. I love the ‘citrus-smile’ description— it is perfect.

    You are as entertaining as ever,
    Allan

  4. I’ve never heard of this guy (when I first saw the image he reminded me of Steve Yeager–but everybody looked like that in the 1970s), but already I think he’s awesome. I really admire a dude who can make a very little talent go a very long way, and nine years in the big leagues is a long time to carry a mediocre talent.

    I recently stumbled across my old baseball cards (also Star Wars!) at my grandma’s house, but I wasn’t ready to go through them. I think there are probably a lot of “Norm Millers” and not so many Fernandos or Ricky Hendersons. I’m sure most of the Rookie Cards I have were guys who went on to the Hall of Fame (Real Estate Hall of Fame, Motivational Speaker Hall of Fame, etc–not Cooperstown, however).

    • Hey Smak, Yeah, Mr. Miller (no relation) managed to worm his way into my life at an impressionable age. He actually also looks slightly like my older cousin, Jimmy, with whom I played hundreds of hours of baseball. Jimmy is also a ’70’s kind of guy.
      Nothing like coming across an old stash of cards. You never know what you’re going to find.
      Those Star Wars cards could have some real value, by the way.
      Cheers,
      Bill

      • I’ll let you know if I find any good ones. Regarding the Star Wars cards being valuable, there’s a “yeah, but.”

        The good news is, I actually know a little what SW cards I have, and I have #1-5 of the blue cards, the first series and the ones which, I think, are the valuable ones.

        The bad news–they’re in terrible condition, in a stack, bound by a rubber band.

      • Nice to know some things never change. I used to use rubber bands back in the ’70’s. Did wonders for the top and bottom dozen or so cards. Oh, well, now everyone keeps their cards in pristine condition, and chances are they’ll never be worth anything for exactly that reason.
        Bill

  5. Great stuff, Bill. I have to admit I don’t remember Norm Miller. Forsome reason I used to get a bunch of manager cards in my early Topps packs. Who the heck cares about managers?
    v

  6. Hail to Norm Miller! Hey, all these guys are terrific ballplayers. Today Miller would probably make 2.2 million.

  7. Reblogged this on "You Jivin' Me, Turkey?" and commented:
    A Wonderful Little Baseball Tale That Sincerely Made Me Smile, This Morning. I Think Anyone (who’s a fan of Baseball or Baseball Cards) Can Easily Relate To This One.
    I Hope You Enjoy It As Much As I Do.
    GREAT STUFF, Mr. Bill!!!
    -B.

  8. All of us who collected cards back in the day remember this phenomenon–I remember having a plethora of Richie Scheinblums and Larry Burcharts (like I wanted anyone who played for the Indians.) This is a wonderful piece of writing.

    • Thanks, W.k. I wish I could say that Topps is doing better these days, but they’re not. I’m collecting this year’s Heritage collection, and I already have about a half-dozen Justin Mastersons. I guess kids who collect cards these days will be able to carry on the “doubles” tradition.
      -Bill

  9. Bill,
    Be thankful you had Norm Miller in 1974. My 1st year of buying Topps was 1970, and it seemed like every pack that I bought had a checklist card in it. What do you do with that? What kind of memories, good or bad can you relive with a 1970 checklist.
    I say, long live Norm Miller.
    Kevin G.
    P.S.
    Norm is still patrolling the outfield for the Mayan Knights. He lives on my friend.

  10. Norm Miller wrote a memoir a few years back … you should dig it up, just to have a little more Norm in your life! It was called “To All My Fans from Norm Who?” (Don’t ask me how my brain seemed to remember that little bit of baseball trivia … when my brain can’t seem to remember where I put the car keys most mornings!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: