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Miller Is Back With the Angels : Jack of All Trades Comes Home Again From Edmonton

September 03, 1986|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

It seems Darrell Miller has done nothing but impress people--many of the right people--during his eight years in the Angel organization.

Said then-Angel Manager John McNamara of the catcher/infielder/outfielder in 1984: "He's versatile and he's a good athlete. He looks like he can be a very valuable man to a major league ballclub."

This from Bill Bavasi, minor league director, during spring training last March: "He's the best athlete in the organization."

Added Manager Gene Mauch: "He's a Bob Boone clone."

So why, then, was Miller receiving handshakes from several reporters who welcomed him back to Anaheim Stadium from Triple-A Edmonton before Tuesday night's game against the Orioles? Why hasn't he been he in Anaheim all year?

What has prevented the highly regarded Miller from becoming a starter or even a reserve for the Angels?

"That's a very good question," Miller said. "What is holding me back?"

Then he leaned back in his chair and said, "You're asking the wrong guy."

The right guy here would be Mike Port, Angel general manager, who sent Miller back to Edmonton on May 31 in favor of left-handed hitting third baseman/outfielder Jack Howell.

"We wanted to get a left-handed hitter on the club for more balance, so that's why we brought Howell up," Port said.

There's one other problem. Miller, who has played catcher, first base, third base and all three outfield positions on the pro level, is a living example of the old cliche: Jack-of-all-trades but master of none.

He can't seem to play one position well enough to break into the big league lineup.

"Anyone would be hard-pressed to replace Boone behind the plate," Port said. "And the same goes for Gary Pettis in center field. (Right fielder) Ruppert Jones has hit some key home runs, as has (right fielder) George Hendrick. Downing lends us stability in left. . . . "

You get the picture.

Miller, who said his .209 average in 23 games with the Angels was, in part, a result of a leg injury he incurred late in spring training, was hoping his demotion was a temporary thing.

But he ended up spending the rest of the minor league season at Edmonton, batting .307 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 63 games before being called up Monday, when teams were allowed to expand their rosters.

It marked the fourth straight year that Miller has spent time in Edmonton, but there were no bitter feelings about being 27 and still stuck in Triple-A.

"The team was doing well, so why change anything," Miller said. "It's like when your car is running well, why take it to get it fixed? There was no one hurt and no one on the disabled list. I wanted to be here real bad, but what can I say?"

Miller is ready for a new challenge, though. This Triple-A stuff just isn't cutting it anymore. He hit .303 at Edmonton in 1983 and .326 there in 1984.

"I could hit .300 in that league in my sleep," Miller joked.

He can handle major league pitching, too. Miller spent most of the 1985 season with the Angels, hitting .375 (18 for 48). Trouble was, he played in only 51 games.

He thought he'd have a more important role this season, because the Angels were grooming him as Boone's successor. But then, he collided with Cub catcher Steve Christmas while trying to score in an exhibition game and badly bruised his knee.

"I really believe that if I wasn't injured, I would have stayed here all year," Miller said. "I was really hurting."

So was his pride after he was optioned to Edmonton again.

"You can go either way (when you get sent down)," Miller said. "You can hit .205 and just say, 'Screw it,' but you never know what can happen in this game. You never want to give up."

Miller didn't. He had a productive season at Edmonton and now hopes to contribute anything he can to the Angels during this month's pennant race.

He also plans to stick around for "as long as it takes" to become a major league regular.

"I enjoy this game, and there's nothing else I want to do," said Miller, who has tried his hand at selling televisions during the off-season. "They'll probably tell me when to quit.

"I'm in a game where I'm outside, I get to travel, and I'm paid, and that has made me even more hungry. Once you've been in the big leagues, you know there's no other place like it."

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