I may be biased, but when I think of the average MLB catcher, the first name that comes to mind is Damian Miller. It probably stems from the fact that Miller is the first starting catcher I remember watching as a budding baseball fan for the Milwaukee Brewers.
My bias notwithstanding, Miller’s play with the diamond supports this observation; He was a strong defender with an above-average arm and a solid stick who has built an 11-year, five-ball club career – all the qualities you’d expect in a seasoned catcher.
Miller fit the classic Major League backstop mold, but his career has been anything but ordinary.
A native of West Salem, WI, he was the starting catcher for the World Series-winning Diamondbacks in 2001 and was an All-Star the following year.
Brewers fans remember him for his club record seven RBI games against Pittsburgh in 2007 and his role in the Brewers’ five-homer inning (an MLB record) against Cincinnati during the 2006 season.
Miller’s most intriguing accomplishment, however, revolves not around what he did, but rather what he didn’t do: appear in an MLB video game.
I discovered this peculiarity at a friend’s place a few weeks ago while playing the Nintendo Gamecube classic MVP Baseball 2005. We organized a matchup between our two hometown clubs; his San Francisco Giants against my beloved Brewers.
On the hill for the crew was Ben Sheets, who finished a career year with 264 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA. At the center of the order was the line of assassins of Lyle Overbay, Carlos Lee and Geoff Jenkins.
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The mediocre 00s
Reading the lineup, there were more familiar names reminiscent of the team’s mediocrity in the 2000s – Russell Branyon, Junior Spivey, Brady Clark. Then came one who was a total stranger: Roger Chamberlain.
I turned eight just after opening day in 2005, so my memory of the Brewers roster that year isn’t perfect, but I think I would have remembered a Brewers catcher who wasn’t named Chad Moeller or Damian Miller .
A quick check of my baseball cards and a search on Baseball Reference confirmed my suspicions: Roger Chamberlain wasn’t a real baseball player. This riddle deserved an answer.
To uncover the answer behind Damian Miller’s ban from MLB video games, we have to go back more than a quarter-century to the 1994 MLB season — the year of Tony Gwynn, the Montreal Expos, and the strike that nearly tore the sport apart.
After the MLB contract expired on December 31, 1993, tough negotiations between players and owners defined the 1994 season. The two sides remained far apart, and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) set August 12, 1994 as the strike date.
Stop the season!
The teams played their games on August 11, but arrived the next day without an appointment and began a work stoppage that ended the ’94 season. With a .394 batting average at the time, Tony Gwynn had no chance of a .400 season, and the Montreal Expos – enjoying their best campaign in franchise history – were stripped of a possible World Series spot.
As the off-season progressed, players and owners still couldn’t find a compromise, putting the 1995 season in jeopardy.
In order to start the season on time, Major League Baseball authorized the use of substitutes. Any player who did not have a current contract with an MLB team — and was therefore outside the MLBPA — could elect to become a substitute.
This decision had consequences. While the strike gave the minor leagues a chance to reach the majors and earn a handsome paycheck, crossing the picket line prevented them from joining the MLBPA and the players’ union — earning the scorn of their peers.
The substitutes never saw the diamond. Hours before opening day, an agreement was reached between the players’ union and the owners, ending the lockout.
The substitutes paid a price for their actions. Because they were not allowed to join the MLBPA, their name and likeness could not be used on official MLB-sponsored products, including commemorative items and video games.
Years after the strike ended, MLB video game rosters were riddled with a different breed of substitutes — fictional substitutes for the jealous scabs who were shut out by the animated Diamonds.
Damian Miller was not included in any official merchandise celebrating the Diamondbacks World Series win in 2001, nor was he portrayed in any MLB video games during his career.
In MVP Baseball 2005, Miller was replaced by Roger Chamberlain. In Major League Baseball 2K5, the Wisconsinite was replaced by fictional backstop Jef Holton.
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Also missing from the 2005 Baseball MVP were Kevin Millar – a World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 – and most notably superstar slugger Barry Bonds.
Millar crossed the picket line with Miller in 1995, but Bonds chose to walk away from the MLBPA licensing agreement in 2003, believing he could make more money from independent sponsorship deals.
Miller and Millar were two of the few substitutes to have significant careers after the strike. The 103 players who crossed the picket line were broken-up veterans or forgotten minor-leagues – all with nothing to lose – which made Miller and Millar’s rise to relevance all the more impressive.
MLB video games used substitutes until the 2010 season, when Brendan Donnelly and Ron Mahay—the last two active players to cross the picket line in 1995—played their final games.
The strife caused by the 1994-95 strike has largely been forgotten after the players involved resigned, but if we examine the careers of the likes of Damian Miller, we can hark back to a curious era of professional baseball from the not-too remember distant past.