BY STEVE KRAH
Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.
The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.
When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.
Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.
“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.
“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.
“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”
At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.
“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”
As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.
“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.
“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”
From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.
It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.
Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.
“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”
Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.
“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.
“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”
Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.
“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”
At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.
“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.
“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”
Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.
the higher you go in the minor leagues,
“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.
The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.
“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”
Then there’s the matter of rhythm.
“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”
The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.
“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.
“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”
Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.
“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.
“It takes time to figure all that out.”
It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.
“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.
He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.
“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.
Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.
His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.
Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).
Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.
Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.
Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)
Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)