Justin Miller tried out for the Mariners a few spring trainings ago as he attempted to prolong his major league career. It was an uneventful career stats-wise, but Miller did gain notoriety for one particular aspect of his game.
He was baseball’s Tattoo Man.
Last night, it was announced he’d been found dead at age 35. No cause has been released.
Miller’s body was actually found Wednesday but news only got out about 48 hours later.
The last time I saw Miller was in the summer of 2011 when we were both darting through the Phoenix airport and found ourselves in the same security line. It was just a few weeks after the Mariners had released him from a AAA contract with the Tacoma Rainiers following his one spring with them. He would bounce around a couple of other organizations that year and told me he might go to Japan or Korea if he could find an opportunity there.
Instead, he wound up retiring and coaching high school baseball.
He’d had a chance to team up again with longtime pal Brandon League during that 2011 spring with the Mariners. It was Miller who introduced League to the art of tattooing oneself back when they were with Toronto’s organization several years earlier. They’d shared a Florida pad together and were soon “Brothers in Ink” as I wrote that spring.
Miller became so covered in tattoos that MLB introduced what is commonly known as “The Justin Miller Rule” to force pitchers to cover up any ink on their forearms so as to not distract hitters.
That rule remains Miller’s lasting legacy in baseball today.
I first met him 11 years ago, just after he came over to the Blue Jays with Eric Hinske in the trade that sent closer Billy Koch to Oakland. Years later, when Koch tried to make a comeback with Toronto, Miller got a tattoo on his backside that read “I love Billy Koch” with a heart symbol replacing the word “love”.
Koch had paid Miller $1,000 to do it on a dare and gave Miller’s wife an additional $500.
That’s the kind of guy Miller was. He was funny, easy-going as can be and will be missed by those who came into contact with him.
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