Hall of Fame
“Poor Old Ray” as the bug shield on his van stated, once lived in the Lowell area and was well known in town. He was actually Raymond Miller Jr, born in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky, in 1927 and grew up playing baseball. He played for several Louisville area semi pro teams before signing on to play in the Negro Baseball League in 1943. He played for five different teams and was a member of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame. He took a break from baseball while he served his country in the Navy, and was awarded the American Area Campaign and WWII Victory Medals.
Returning home, he again played for the Negro Baseball League. He witnessed Jackie Robinson break through the color barrier in 1947. After that, Ray was able to sign with the Cincinnati Reds in 1955 and trained with the Reds minor leaguers in Cuba. Unfortunately for Miller, his best playing days were behind him. A teammate described him as comparable to Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron. Ray didn’t just hit home runs, he hit long home runs, and set the record while in the Negro League.
After his professional career, Ray continued to play in competitive leagues. In 1970 the Grand Rapids newspaper listing of weekend game activity shows he was still hitting 9th inning home runs, gaining victories for his team.
He was known for his sheer love of the game, and he loved to pass that on to younger ball players. Allan Baird, who played with Miller in the Tri-County Summer League, managed the Zzano’s team in the Grand Rapids City League when Miller played on the team and lived just a couple of miles from Miller, said, “He was very instructional to the younger kids. He was a great hitter who knew a lot about the game, especially hitting. He liked to help kids become better players.”
In 2003, Ray was one of 10 players invited to Comerica Park as part of a weekend tribute to the Negro League players who had been barred by their skin color from playing in the major leagues. The people who came out stood in long lines to pay respect and hope for an autograph from the stars. The lines were so long that the ball players continued signing long after the event was to have ended. The Detroit News asked one woman in attendance who endured the long line what most attracted her to seeing stars from another era, so far removed from today’s consciousness, and she answered “Respect. They couldn’t play in the majors. It’s a period of history you don’t hear enough about.” This honor was timely as Ray Miller passed away the following year and is buried in the Bailey Cemetery in Vergennes Township.
Some may have only known him as “Poor Old Ray”, but now we know that Lowell had a Baseball Hall of Famer, a Legend who was capable of celebrity status in the big leagues but was limited by his place in time.