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Dateline Dixon: A little piece of Dixon, baseball history

Former major leaguer, Lee sheriff Ward Miller played 1909-1917

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 10:15 p.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Pro baseball player Ward T. Miller's monument on the Old Lee County Courthouse lawn in Dixon lists the five teams Miller played for during his eight-season professional career.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve walked by the Ward T. Miller memorial in Dixon and wanted to know more about him.

But just about every time it slipped my mind, and I’d forget until the next time I walked by the old Lee County Courthouse.

That all changed recently.

Miller played for the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and the now-defunct St. Louis Browns and St. Louis Terriers, of the former Federal League, during his 8-year career that spanned from 1909 to 1917.

He missed the 1911 season because of a respiratory ailment, local historian Mark Stach said.

It was Stach who lead the charge for the memorial, which was dedicated in 2011, after getting to know Miller’s daughter, Shirley Roundy.

Miller had a career .278 batting average with eight home runs, 221 RBIs, 128 stolen bases and a .375 on-base percentage in 2,669 plate appearances over 769 games played, according to www.baseball-reference.com. The site lists Miller’s birthplace at Mount Carroll, but local historian Greg Langan said Miller’s family moved to Dixon in the 1890s.

His best season was in 1915 when he was playing for the Terriers. He hit .306 with a 164 hits, nine triples and 63 RBIs, the latter three all career highs, according to the website.

But he was, in Stach’s words, an “average player” for his era.

During his time in baseball, Miller shared the dugout with some pretty well-known players, including Honus Wagner and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, to name a few.

After his career, he came back to Dixon and served as county sheriff and treasurer. At one point, Miller operated an ice company that cut blocks of ice out of the Rock River, Langan said.

Miller’s nickname during his playing days was Grump, Stach said, adding that the ballplayer’s daughter confirmed to him that it matched his persona.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to find out when I started making phone calls about Miller. He may not have been a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but he was a part of a pretty historically significant era for baseball.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Matt Mencarini covers government and happenings in Dixon. He can be reached at mmencarini@saukvalley.com
or at 815-625-3600,
ext. 5529. Follow him on Twitter: @MattMencarini.

SVM reporter at Books on First today

Sauk Valley Media reporter Matt Mencarini will have "office hours" from 1 to 2 p.m. today at Books on First, 202 W. First St.

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