The Stu Miller Myth
This was July, 1961, and the first of two All-Star games was being played at Candlestick Park. In the ninth inning, Miller was on the mound, starting his windup. A gust of wind hit him and he swayed just a bit, enough for him to be called for a balk.
He didn’t think much of it and neither did I, especially when the National League rallied in the bottom of the 10th inning to overcome an AL lead and win the game.
That winning rally involved four players now in the Hall of Fame: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente. That was the focus of my story because I thought that was the most significant element.
My opinion was supported by an independent voice. At that time, E. P. Dutton was putting out a yearly edition of “The Best Sports Stories.” Editors would select the single best story from each of the top events of the year. Mine was selected for that All-Star game. (Years later, when I was with The Chronicle, my story on the fourth Super Bowl was also selected.)
But the front page headline in The Chronicle the next day, in huge black letters was, “Stu Miller Blown Off Mound.” Miller would say many times in the future, including to me when I interviewed him for my 40-year history on the San Francisco Giants in 1996, “You’d have thought that I’d been plastered against the centerfield fence.”
There were elements involved, though, that had nothing to do with the game and everything to do with The Chronicle’s survival.
In the late ‘50s, when I was at Cal, there were four daily newspapers in San Francisco, the Examiner and Chronicle in the morning, the News and Call-Bulletin in the afternoon. The Chronicle was lagging far behind the Examiner in circulation, kept going only because of the money that was flowing in from the television station it owned, KRON.
Then, Newhall was hired as the executive editor. He turned The Chronicle into an extremely lively paper, making a sports columnist out of Charles McCabe, for the sole purpose of arousing the ire of fans who were knowledgeable about sports, which McCabe wasn’t. Every day, Newhall wanted huge black headlines on the front page with dramatic stories. The one I remember most after I came to work there was one bemoaning the supposedly bad coffee served in local restaurants. “A Great City’s Residents Forced to Drink Swill.”
So, the Miller story fit the formula. Accuracy was not demanded.
Newhall’s plan worked very well. The Chronicle’s circulation surged, eventually passing The Examiner’s in 1963, just before I came to work at The Chron, and forcing The Examiner to settle in 1966 for an agreement that put the paper in the afternoon. The one concession to The Examiner was that they could handle the live news, including sports, on Sunday. That wasn’t enough to prevent their subscription frp, dropping to less than 1/6th of The Chronicle’s before the Hearst Corporation bought the paper in 2000.
The Chronicle continued to thrive until the Hearst takeover. There were great columnists, Caen of course, Art Hoppe, McCabe as a general interest columnist and me in sports. That ended with the Hearst takeover because the Examiner editors took over and brought the paper down to their level. It wasn’t until after circulation had dropped precipitously that the Hearst people in New York fired all but one of them and let sensible editors take over. It was too late by then to restore The Chronicle to its previous level.
But, it was fun while it lasted, and the Stu Miller saga was one part of all that, even if he didn’t appreciate it.
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