Stu Miller’s change-up was the best

I was saddened, as I’m always saddened when a character in my life goes away, to hear about the passing yesterday of Stu Miller, who pitched in the major leagues until he was 40.

A few years ago, I spent a great deal of time with Stu Miller. Or rather, I spent a great deal of time with his change-up. I wound up publishing six quotes about Miller’s change-up, but could have published many more. That’s how good it was. But here’s one of my favorite quotes, from fellow relief pitcher Dick Hall:

Stu Miller had the best change-up ever. He held it just like a fastball, and right at the last second he was able to break his wrist backwards so he had that real good fastball arm motion, and the ball had a fastball spin, but it never got there. They’d sit around waiting for the change-up, but it took so long to get there that they went on and swung anyway. Then he’d pop the fastball. He was really good.

Nobody really throws the Stu Miller change-up anymore — the straight change — maybe because it’s just so hard to throw it well. But Miller, inspired by Vedie Himsl, his manager in his second pro season, just figured out how to throw an excellent one. And just a couple of years later, he’d jumped all the way from Class D to the majors. "Overhand fastball, sidearm fastball, overhand curveball, sidearm curveball, and I’d change up on each one," Miller said after retiring, "which gave me about eight different things I could throw."

But it was the change-up that kept him in the majors for so long. In the book I did with Bill James, we rated his change-up as the greatest in major-league history. I’m not saying the list would be the same today, but here’s what it looked like 10 years ago, to us:

1. Stu Miller

2. Jean Dubuc

3. Ed Lopat

4. Jamie Moyer

5. Pedro Martinez

6. Trevor Hoffman

7. Doug Jones

8. Ellis Kinder

9. Bill Sherdel

10. Andy Messersmith