Miller and Gibbons go way back

* Rich Miller, the senior advisor of the Blue Jays’ minor-league system, has some history with Toronto manager John Gibbons (pictured). Miller was the class-A Shelby Mets manager when Gibbons was coming up through the Mets system. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2015 Canadian draft list

By Bob Elliott

DUNEDIN - Rich Miller has the evidence.

It’s home in Pennsylvania inside his old scrapbook.

Inside is a faded clipping from The Shelby Star (N.C.) from the summer of 1982.

There was a play at the plate and Miller’s catcher began to argue the safe call. Miller arrived, and like any good manager, his first job was to keep his player in the game before going on to argue with the ump.

So, the class-A Shelby Mets manager arrived on the run and pushed his catcher.

“I caught him off balance, down he went, so the picture the paper ran is John Gibbons flat on his back, me arguing with the ump,” said Miller on a rainy day at the Bobby Mattick facility, where he’s senior advisor of the Blue Jays’ minor-league system.

Miller took over for Tim Leiper, the Jays’ new first base coach.

“I told John earlier this spring, ‘You remember big boy, who put you on your butt,’” said Miller with a laugh.

Miller was 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds in his second year managing in the New York Mets system.

Gibbons was 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds in his second full season in the minors.

“He was a fiery pepper pot back then,” Miller recalled of the New York Mets’ former No. 1 pick.

Gibbons is still a fiery pepper pot, as he showed last May when Brett Lawrie screamed at Adam Lind (and third base coach Luis Rivera) for not scoring (or telling Lind to tag) on a medium fly to right against the Baltimore Orioles, even though the Jays were two runs down.

When Lawrie reached the dugout and continued to chirp, Gibbons told him to “shut up, sit down, we’re trying to win a ball game here.”

After Jose Bautista interceded — and an Anthony Gose walk, an out, a walk-off Munenori Kawasaki double and a Lawrie apology — everyone went home happy.

“As a manager, you have to know when to pat a guy on the back, know when to be a drill sergeant,” said Miller. “You can’t be a drill sergeant all season or you lose your soldiers.”

Miller credited coach Glenn Borgmann with teaching Gibbons how to call a game after the two noticed too many consecutive fastballs.

“We’re trying to improve our pitchers, why not have a guy work on his breaking ball in an 0-2 or 1-2 count?” Miller said. “Glenn called pitches for a couple of games and John picked it up quickly.

Bill Latham, who made it with the Mets, was the perfect guy for John to learn from: he came out of Auburn, wasn’t a flame-thrower, but he had a good breaking ball and change.”

While the Blue Jays-Pittsburgh Pirates game in Bradenton was cancelled on Thursday, work went on inside at the Mattick complex: hitting in the cage, meetings and coaches speaking to players.

“I dropped in on (roving hitting instructor) Steve Springer, he was telling players how this organization doesn’t keep troublemakers, how you have to be a good teammate, be happy when your teammate gets called up to the next level, some day you’ll be teammates again,” said Miller. “I spoke to our outfielders the other day, how they have to be passionate about defence, how you can’t take a bad at-bat into the outfield with you.”

Miller speaks from experience.

“I tell kids I could run, bunt and play the heck out of centre, how if they had ever brought in the designated fielder rule, I would have been in the big leagues,” said Miller, who played three seasons at triple-A Tidewater. “It was unfortunate that John got hurt.”

Gibbons was about to break camp with the Mets in 1984 when he was cracked at the plate by Philadelphia Phillies’ Joe Lefebvre on a bang-bang-break play at St. Petersburg. Gibbons suffered a displaced fracture of the left cheekbone.

“If the rule for home-plate collisions we have now was in place then,” said Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, “John Gibbons would have had a long catching career in the majors.”


Rich Miller, the senior advisor of the Blue Jays’ minor-league system, has coached, managed and been a roving instructor in the minors with the New York Mets (31 seasons), Minnesota Twins (five) and the Blue Jays (three).

His all-time lineup of players he’s coached or managed (and their organization)

1. CF Lenny Dykstra, Class-A Shelby (Mets)

2. LF Mark Carreon, Shelby (Mets)

3. 3B Hubie Brooks, double-A Jackson (Mets)

4. 1B Garrett Jones, triple-A Rochester (Marlins)

5. DH Chris Heintz, Rochester (Twins)

6. C John Gibbons, Shelby (Mets)

7. RF John Christensen, Shelby (Mets)

8. 2B Wally Backman, Jackson (Mets)

9. SS Ron Gardenhire, Jackson (Mets)

RHP Roger McDowell, Shelby (Mets)

LHP Francisco Liriano, Rochester (Twins)

RPs Jesse Crain, Rochester (Astros), Bobby Korecky, Rochester (Blue Jays)

- Follow Bob Elliott on Twitter @elliottbaseball