In his ten-year pro career as a pitcher (split among several minor-league clubs) Ray Miller never enjoyed a twenty-win season. But during his second career as pitching coach of the Orioles (twice) and Pirates, Miller saw seven of his pitchers reach the twenty-win plateau, three of whom were also awarded Cy Young Awards.
In his first years with a powerful Orioles club, Miller had already established himself as a top-notch pitching coach. In 1978 he inherited a staff that the year before had featured five starters with double-digit win totals. Yet in his first year with the club each returning starter won more games than he had in ’77. In 1979, six of his pitchers cracked the ten-win plateau, led by Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan (23-9), helping the team roll to its first pennant in eight years. Only Dennis Martinez (15-16) had a losing record. The 1980 edition of the club featured two twenty-game winners — Steve Stone (25-7, Cy Young winner) and Scott McGregor (20-8). Miller’s pitching staffs were consistently reliable, as every year during his tenure (except for the strike-shortened season) at least four of his pitchers won at least ten games.
During the first half of the 1985 season Miller was hired as manager of the Twins to replace Billy Gardner. After a mediocre year-and-a-half Miller himself was replaced by Tom Kelly. He caught on with the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates as pitching coach and in his ten years with the team helped to develop such young stars as Doug Drabek and John Smiley while getting the most out of reclamation projects like Neal Heaton and Zane Smith. Miller’s pitching corps always featured a unique mix of young guns and retreads that helped the team win three straight pennants in the early 1990s.
Miller returned to the scene of his greatest successes in 1997 by once again claiming the Orioles’ pitching coach job, and was instrumental in molding a strong Baltimore staff that led the club to its first division title since 1983. His mantra to pitchers was: “Work fast. Throw strikes. Change speeds.” After manager Davey Johnson’s squabbling with owner Peter Angelos led to Johnson’s resignation during the subsequent offseason, Angelos tabbed Miller as his next manager.
But what seemed like a perfect marriage quickly turned sour, as an Orioles squad that had reached the League Championship Series each of the last two years played itself out of postseason contention by the All-Star break. Miller found himself at the helm of an aging, overpriced team that appeared at best diffident and at worst antagonistic towards him. Almost immediately, fans and the media began clamoring for his ouster, claiming he was unfit for the demands of the job.
Somehow, Miller managed to survive through two disappointing and embarrassing years as Baltimore’s skipper. Following a 1999 season in which Miller openly sparred with a clubhouse that had obviously lost respect for him, Angelos gave in to the inevitable and fired the man he had referred to as his “oak tree” upon hiring him. Miller’s tenure with the Orioles all but confirmed his reputation in the baseball community as a first-rate pitching coach who wasn’t cut from managerial timber.