Today is former outfielder Eddie Miller's fifty-sixth birthday. He played in parts of six seasons with Texas, Atlanta, and Detroit, but it's what he did in his last of just 14 at-bats with the 1984 Padres that put him in the history books.
After getting 318 major league at-bats over 125 games from 1977 through 1982, Miller spent all of 1983 in AAA Portland, then a Phillies affiliate. He was released by Philadelphia before spring training of '84 and was out of work until the Padres signed him on August 1 and sent him to single-A Reno. Miller earned a September call-up by hitting .329 in 79 AB, also hitting a home run-- something he had yet to do in the majors. Going into the final game of the season for the eventual National League champions, Miller had gotten 12 at-bats in 12 games, collecting three hits, including his second career triple.
Game 162 of the Padres' 1984 season was far from a must-win game, as the team had clinched the N.L. West ten days earlier. That explains why Dick Williams sent Miller in to replace Tony Gwynn in the middle of the third inning, after Gwynn's second at-bat. And before you even question it, no, it was not to protect Gwynn's first batting title. Gwynn finished 30 points better than runner-up Lee Lacy, .351 to .321.
Miller's first at-bat of the game was nothing special; a fly ball to right for the first out of a 1-2-3 sixth by Atlanta starter Pasqual Perez. Perez was still in the game to start the ninth, his team leading 4-1. Leading off the inning was Eddie Miller. He promptly took Perez deep for the first home run of his career.
It would also be the last home run of his career, as he never played in the major leagues again after that day. The team released him November 1 but he re-signed with the organization and played 52 games with AA Beaumont in 1985, where he was teammates with Benito Santiago and Kevin Towers. That was his last season in affiliated ball; he played four more seasons in the Mexican League.
I knew that Eddie Miller wasn't the only player to hit his only homer in his final at-bat because I remember hearing about a reliever who did it and I figured that a handful of other pitchers and cup-of-coffee guys would have done the deed as well. But maybe, I thought, he might have the most career at-bats of anyone who had done it.
I searched for a list of players who hit their sole home run their last time up to the plate but came up empty. As a Plan B, I searched for a list of all players who homered in their last at-bat, intending to look up every player on it. Fortunately, the first one I found had each player's career total in parenthesis so I only had to look up the 13 players who only had one. Sure enough, they were mostly pitchers and late-season call-ups, and Miller's 332 at-bats are 210 more than Kevin Pasley's total. So there you have it.
Eddie Miller had the most at-bats of anyone to hit their only career home run in their final at-bat. Bust that one out next time you want a free beer.
I was feeling pretty good about making this discovery and got sidetracked looking up stuff about Tony Brewer, who coincidentally hit his only home run in his last at-bat the very same day Miller did. It was then that I found this list of players who hit their only home run in their final at-bat that I missed in my initial stab at research. It even notes that Miller had the most at-bats, rendering the digging around that I did useless. I guess I discovered the fact in the same sense that Columbus discovered America: not really. Still, it was fun looking through all that information and it turns out that two other players have done it since that was written in 2003, so my research wasn't in vain after all since one of them could have had more at-bats than Miller. They didn't, but they could have.
Happy birthday, Eddie Miller. Enjoy your place in major league history and thanks for the trivia question.