The story of the Canadian who lost his batting title to Honus Wagner

Chatham, Ont., native Roy "Doc" Miller lost the 1911 National League batting title to Honus Wagner by the slimmest of margins. (Photo courtesy Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame).

Chatham, Ont., native Roy “Doc” Miller lost the 1911 National League batting title to Honus Wagner by the slimmest of margins. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame).

He finished one single shy of baseball immortality.

And Canadian Roy “Doc” Miller wouldn’t have even needed that hit if the Chicago Cubs hadn’t protested the first game of a doubleheader against Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 30, 1911.

Despite Wagner’s 0-for-4 performance, the Pirates had secured a 1-0 victory in that contest until the Cubs launched a protest because at some point during the game the Pirates reportedly batted out of order. The protest was successful and the game – and Wagner’s 0-fer – were wiped from the record books.

Erasing this result seemed innocuous at the time, but at season’s end, those four Wagner at bats were the difference between him winning his eighth and final National League batting title and Miller securing his first (and only) batting crown. Wagner finished with a .334038 batting average, while Miller completed the campaign with a .332756 mark. If you add those four hitless at bats, however, Wagner’s average dips to .331237.

Miller made a furious charge for the batting crown by recording 14 hits in his final eight games. He would never come close to topping the league in hitting again, and by the end of the 1914 season, he was out of professional baseball entirely.

But that 1911 season by the left-handed hitting outfielder remains one of the best seasons ever assembled by a Canadian. While toiling on the last-place Boston Rustlers, alongside future Hall of Fame hurlers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Eppa Rixey, Miller led the National League with 192 hits and tied for the league lead in singles (146). The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Canuck also finished second in doubles (36) and sixth in RBIs (91) and total bases (255). He also hit .379 with runners in scoring position and was a perfect 8-for-8 with the bases loaded.

Born in Chatham, Ont., on February 4, 1883, Miller attended elementary school and high school in his hometown. In an August 2009 Chatham This Week article, Miller’s father is described as a “prosperous” local merchant. The article also reports that Miller had three brothers and a sister.

As a teen, Miller starred as a pitcher and outfielder on semi-pro teams in Western Ontario and attracted the interest of pro scouts. In 1903, he caught on with Manchester of the Class B New England League, where he played alongside Moonlight Graham, made famous by the movie Field of Dreams. Miller toiled with Graham again with Class B Binghamton in the New York State League in 1905, and while there’s no evidence that the two were pals, they certainly shared a common interest in medicine. While Graham became a doctor in Chisholm, Minn., Miller also took up the medical profession, eventually specializing in skin diseases and cancer in New York.

After stints with Calumet and Fargo in the Class C Northern-Copper Country League, Miller landed with the Class A Western League’s Pueblo Indians in 1908, where he played outfield behind future Hall of Fame pitcher Kid Nichols. Miller enjoyed his finest minor league season the following year, when he hit a combined .359 in stops in Pueblo and with the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. His performance convinced the Cubs to sign him and give him his first big league shot in 1910 at the age of 27.

But the Canadian outfielder suited up for just one game with the Cubs before being dealt to the Boston Doves, where hit .286 in 130 games in his first taste of regular big league action. His breakout campaign came the following year after the Boston club changed its name to the Rustlers.

As good as he was on the field in 1911, Miller reportedly clashed with his manager Fred Tenney, who accused him and fellow Rustler Buck Herzog of “laying down” and fined them both during the club’s abysmal 107-loss campaign. This may have fueled Boston’s decision to swap Miller to the Philadelphia Phillies for Silent John Titus on June 21, 1912.

Boston dealt Doc Miller (above) to Philadelphia on June 21, 1912. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame).

Boston dealt Doc Miller (above) to Philadelphia on June 21, 1912. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame).

Miller hit .288 in 67 games for the Phillies in 1912 and .345 in 69 contests in 1913. His 21 pinch hits that season stood as a big league record for 19 years. He was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds in 1914, where he batted .255 in 93 games in his final big league campaign.

Miller, who also had a brother who was a doctor in San Francisco, was heady, ambitious and unconventional and he often clashed with management about his contract. Education was clearly important to him. He secured a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in 1907 and graduated from the University of Toronto’s medical school in 1911. As mentioned earlier, after his playing career, he relocated to New York and became a respected doctor specializing in skin diseases.

According to Chatham This Week, Miller did marry, but he didn’t have any children. The Chatham Sports Hall of Fame website indicates that after Miller’s wife died in 1936, the former big leaguer grew depressed. Sadly, Miller died from an apparent suicide on July 31, 1938 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

For more than seven decades, Miller’s baseball accomplishments had been all but forgotten. But in 2009, Miller’s magical 1911 season and career .295 batting average (fourth-best ever by a Canadian) were revisited by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s selection committee and he was inducted posthumously into the St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine that summer. Later that year, he was enshrined in the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame.

The back of Miller’s 1912 Cycle Cigarettes card calls him “one of the best natural batsmen the game has ever known.” That seems like an overstatement today. But for one magical season he was, indeed, one of the best – good enough that if not for a Cubs’ protest, he would’ve defeated the legendary Honus Wagner in a National League batting race and earned himself a permanent place in the major league record books.

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