Rubberlegs Miller was Tigers’ first 20-game winner

Pitcher Roscoe Miller shown in his minor league days.

Pitcher Roscoe Miller shown in his minor league days.

Remember Roscoe “Rubberlegs” Miller?

Don’t feel bad. Neither does anyone else.

In fact, you’d have to be about 120 years old today to have watched Rosoce Miller pitch during his brief time in the major leagues, which stretched from 1901 through 1904. But for Detroit fans, ol’ Rubberlegs is worth recalling, if only for a moment, for one significant accomplishment. He is the first 20-game winner in the history of the Detroit Tigers, or at least that part of it recognized by Major League Baseball. (The Tigers had 20-game winners at various times between 1894 and 1900, when they were considered a minor-league franchise.)

Roscoe Miller’s big season was 1901, the Tigers’ first as a big-league club. He started the famous opening day game at Bennett Park, where the Tigers rallied to beat Milwaukee, 14-13, after trailing 13-4 entering the ninth. The unprecedented comeback was a harbinger of good things to come for the 25-year-old Miller.

That summer, the strapping right-hander from Greenville, Indiana compiled a 23-13 record with a 2.95 ERA. His victories were exceeded by only three other moundsmen: Denton “Cyclone or Cy” Young, Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity, and Clark “The Silver Fox” Griffith, all future Hall of Famers. Nicknames were pretty big back then.

In ’01, Miller completed all but one of his 36 starts, which placed him third in complete games. Nobody in the league was harder to get a home run off, as Miller surrendered just one four-bagger in 332 innings. The ball really was “dead” in those days.

Miller, a solid 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds with excellent control, seemed destined for greater things. But the following summer he was sporting a mediocre record of 6-12 when he jumped to the New York Giants of the older, established National League. Miller fared no better with the Giants or the Pittsburgh Pirates, sustaining a serious wrist injury when a horse-drawn bus carrying the Pittsburgh team was involved in a freak accident. By the end of 1904 he was out of the big leagues for good.

Rubberlegs bounced around in the minors for several years, racking up a league-high 28 victories for Des Moines in 1906. He was only 36 when he died in 1913 of unspecified causes in Corydon, Indiana. He left behind a family, a 39-45 mark in the big leagues, and a permanent—if forgotten—niche in Detroit Tigers history.