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Bruce Miller

March 31, 2010

Bruce was a pretty big name in the 1970s. Bruce Jenner, Bruce Banner, Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen. There was even a kid in my elementary school named Bruce who, I am convinced, was the best kickball player of all time. Using a left foot clad in farm-roughened shitkickers, he could pummel the red ball over everyone and into the corn field bordering the school’s property. The ball made a different kind of sound when he kicked it. Deeper. Toom. A sound that tattooed the air.

According to the back of this card, the player featured here was not officially a Bruce, as his given name was Charles Bruce Miller. He played professional baseball for seven seasons. In three of them, he played only in the minors; in three others, including his last, he split time between the majors and the minors. In just one season, he was a major leaguer from start to finish, free of the harried life of someone who is neither here nor there. He is on the grinning brink of that season in this 1975 card. That year, he would share third base with Steve Ontiveros and also play a little second base and shortstop. A usefully versatile guy to have around, though not exactly an offensive weapon (a .239 average with 1 home run, few walks, and no stolen bases). In the offseason, the Giants traded a young lefty, Pete Falcone, to the Cardinals for regular third baseman Ken Reitz, and a re-marginalized, 29-year-old Bruce Miller spent most of the 1976 season back down in the bushes, managing to log only 25 at-bats with the Giants during a month-long span in late summer. His last chance came on August 28, when he was inserted for Charlie Williams as a pinch-hitter in the third inning of a game against the Pirates. Williams had entered the game in the first inning after starter John D’Acquisto had surrendered three hits and three walks to the first seven Pittsburgh batters (his one recorded out was a fly ball deep enough to drive a run home). Williams wasn’t quite as bad as D’Acquisto had been, but he wasn’t Bruce Sutter at the 1978 all-star game either (to name another prominent 1970s Bruce). By the time Bruce Miller got his last turn at bat, the Giants were already down 7-0. Bruce Miller struck out.

Bruce Lee was dead by then (in fact he had died a couple weeks before Bruce Miller’s major league debut, in 1973). Bruce Banner would continue to be the alter ego of the Hulk in Marvel Comics, but when the character moved to television in the first year of Bruce Miller’s life beyond pro ball, the scientist who turned into a muscular green Ferrigno twice every episode (at twenty after and ten of) was named David Banner, the name Bruce gone without a trace. Bruce Jenner’s time at the pinnacle of American cultural life had come and gone, too, his soaring, feathered-hair 1976 Olympic win in the decathlon the kind of thing that cannot help but make all subsequent existence into an increasingly absurd, plastic-surgery-enhanced aftermath. Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Sutter kept churning out anthems and fanning Juan Samuel for a while, respectively, but their efforts weren’t really enough to keep alive the feeling that the name Bruce was somehow more magical than other names.

I don’t know what happened to the kickballing Bruce of my elementary school. He wasn’t interested in any of the official team sports offered in junior high and high school. He wasn’t a good student. He certainly wasn’t someone who would have gone on to be among the ironic twenty-something urban types who in the 1990s began “playing” “kickball” in “leagues.” I wasn’t one of those people, either, but only because I was lazy and wary of getting involved with others. I passed these kickball games from time to time, populated by people my age who seemed to all be from my species of the pale, stooped, spindly, and bespectacled. It looked like they were having “fun,” and maybe even bordering on having actual fun, i.e., without the air quotes, i.e., the kind of fun I didn’t really allow myself to have. I probably could have joined in, but somehow I felt compelled to be loyal to some sadness within: We had all grown up in the Age of Bruce, but the Age of Bruce was long gone.

14 comments

  1. I went and checked the stats for my recently-completed MicroLeague 1975 SF Giants vs. the 1986 NL. Miller played sparingly for me, hitting only .133 in 45 at-bats.


  2. Do kids even play kickball anymore?

    The Giants sent “Bruce” Kim to the White Sox to comple the Bruce Miller trade.

    Bruce Boisclair and Bruce Bennedict were other baseball Bruces of the time period.

    The David Banner/Bruce Banner switch was rumored to have happened because the name “Bruce” like “Lance” were very popular sobriquets in the gay community during the 1970′s. I think the producers feared that a single 35 year old male hitchhiking character named “Bruce” would be perceived of as a gay character in 1977.

    I think David was chosen because it was the comic book character’s father’s name and the producer’s son was named “David”.


  3. At some point, the name Bruce became associated with effeminate homosexuals. I don’t know if there was some obvious reason for this or just that the word “Bruce” was fun to say if you were putting on a derogatory exaggerated lisp. I do recall reading the MAD Magazine satire of The Incredible Hulk where they addressed this, the character in the foreground of the panel saying Bruce wasn’t a masculine enough name for a hero while a TV in the background shows Jenner in the Olympics and an announcer saying “BRUCE IS THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE!”

    Interesting to see names come up in clumps like that. The Baby name Voyager ( http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager#prefix=bruce&ms=false&exact=false ) shows Bruce peaked in the early 50s and fell sharply. The name Todd has a similar spike in the 60s which is why we saw so many (Benzinger, Zeile, Hundley, Worrell, Van Poppel) in the 80s and 90s but not many before or since.


  4. lazy and wary of getting involved with others

    You, sir, have just written my epitaph.


  5. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is an ELO track off their DISCOVERY album in 1979 (dedicated to Skylab, whose orbit was decaying in direct proportion to the song’s progress up the pop charts — Skylab, what could be more Age of Bruce than that?) wherein lead singer Jeff Lynne repeats the nonsensical world “groooose” after each line in the chorus.

    Audiences, however, heard it as “bruuuuce” — and because of the preponderance of this misinterpretation, Lynne eventually gave in and sang it as “bruuuuce” in live performances. It took a flat-out error by the listening public for this unBruce to outlive the Age of Bruce. Go figure.

    I had crappy taste in music, then and now, and so for this reason and so many more ELO will always be the soundtrack for my Age of Bruce experience.


  6. “Don’t bring me down, Bruce.” That’s certainly how I heard it, wondering who Bruce was and how and why Bruce was spreading such bad vibes. Thanks for bringing that most ephemeral of the decade’s Bruces into the conversation.


  7. I like to think they’re singing “Proust.” I’ve successfully convinced people of that before. Now, really…c’mon.


  8. Love the opening paragraph. I remember a couple of guys who could make the ball “toom” in my day.


  9. i have to disagree with you, josh. the greatest kickball player ever was john lupo. every day, we would start the game and wait for the master to finish his lunch at home and then walk down those long steps into the grade school parking lot, on his way to take his place as king of the world.

    as far as other bruce-related misheard lyrics go, manfred mann changed a line in springsteen’s “blinded by the light” from “cut loose like a deuce” to “revved up like a deuce,” but people heard it as “douche.”

    it was on that very kickball field, by the way, where we would talk about this new show on pbs, monty python’s flying circus, which was way ahead of the whole bruce thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f_p0CgPeyA


  10. Although I followed baseball closely and collected cards during Bruce Miller’s brief career, I have no recollection of him. I do remember his teammate Steve Ontiveros, as well at the pitcher Steve Ontiveros who pitched in the majors from 1985 to 1995 and who emerged again to pitch 5 September innings with Boston in 2000.

    Bruce Bochte is another baseball Bruce that I remember, as well as Bruce Berenyi.


  11. After hearing, reading, or even thinking the name “Bruce Bochte,” I would have to be bound and gagged to then refrain from saying the name of a particular contemporary of his. So: Bruce Bochy.


  12. I recently replayed the entire 1975 Reds schedule with APBA and I thought, “Who is this Bruce Miller?” when the Giants came up. Now I know. As thunder alludes, he and Ontiveros were a platoon.

    It’s funny, the early ’70s were a low point for baseball, until the World Series, which heralded the dramatic growth that continues up to today.

    (johnq: you stole my thunder with the “Bruce=gay” angle! I thought I was on to something.)


  13. Sb1902,

    That Bruce Banner/David Banner switch was from an article I read a few years back about gay characters on t.v. during the 70′s & 80′s. Not that David Banner was a “gay” character, but the producers of television shows were very fearful that a character might be perceived as gay thus scaring away advertisers.

    T.V Networks in the 70′s-80′s couldn’t have gay themed shows so they would often have heterosexual characters in situations that had gay/lesbian overtones: “The Odd Couple”, “Kate & Allie”, “My Two Dads”, “Laverne & Shirley”, and “The Facts of Life”. The most ridiculous premise had to be “My Two Dads”, where a simple paternity test would have cleared things up.

    I have never fully understood why the name “Bruce” became co-opted by the gay community in the ’70′s. One urban legend is that the name “Bruce” was an homage to Adam West’s Campy Batman of the 60′s, “Bruce Wayne” who was a 35 year old bachelor living with a 21 year old man name “Dick”. Another theory is that the name “Bruce” was a macho tough guy name from the 40′s-50′s.

    There’s a good Simpson’s episode where Homer laments the fact that the Gays took away all the good male names like “Bruce” and “Lance”.


  14. Another period Bruce I don’t think I saw mentioned was Bruce Kison. I remember he was one of the few 1976 Topps cards I had as a kid.



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