'An extraordinary person': OHSAA baseball legend Doug Miller of East Canton, Central Catholic retires

East Canton head coach Doug Miller talks with Austin Hamilton (left) and Turner Giles (right) during a 2019 game against Sandy Valley.
East Canton head coach Doug Miller talks with Austin Hamilton (left) and Turner Giles (right) during a 2019 game against Sandy Valley.

On the drives back and forth from Cook Park and his childhood home in northwest Canton, Doug Miller received an early education in baseball from his father, Ralph.

A World War II veteran and longtime player and coach in the Canton Class A League, Ralph Miller explained the game to his young son.

Ralph Miller's baseball philosophy could be boiled down to a basic tenet: Make the routine plays, don't give the other team more than three outs.

"I can remember him saying it to this day, and he was 100 percent on the money," Doug Miller says. "As I went through my coaching career, I'd say, 'Man oh man, how true that was.'"

Man oh man, what a career it was.

Doug Miller, the winningest high school baseball coach in Stark County history, is retiring after 42 seasons — the first 35 at Central Catholic and the last seven at East Canton. He announced his decision to his players Wednesday night after an East Canton summer league game.

Why now? Well, the 72-year-old Miller, who retired as East Canton athletic director in 2022, will tell he's not getting any younger. He feels like Father Time is robbing him of some of the patience and energy required for the job.

He feels it's time to step away from a storied career that includes a record of 790-355, three state championships, six regional titles and 13 district titles — with all that postseason success coming at Central.

A man with a deep appreciation and respect for the difficulty (and quirkiness) of baseball, Miller shakes his head at the gaudy numbers.

"To be perfectly honest with you, when I got into coaching, I did not go in with any thoughts of state championships or milestones," said Miller, a 1970 Canton Lincoln High School graduate who played for legendary coach Hank Miller (no relation). "I coached a lot of sports, but I loved the game of baseball and I really enjoyed being around kids. I thought I could make an impact on them. That was my total reasoning for staying in education, teaching, coaching and athletic administration for all of these years."

Miller's 790 career wins put him third in state history, according to Ohio High School Athletic Association unofficial records. He trails only Defiance's Tom Held (806) and Hebron Lakewood's Don Thorp (1,011).

East Canton baseball coach Doug Miller encourages his team during a 2019 game.
East Canton baseball coach Doug Miller encourages his team during a 2019 game.

Miller was inducted into the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2023.

If there was an outstanding people hall of fame, Kevin Finefrock believes Miller should be inducted in that, too.

Finefrock has a unique perspective of Miller. Finefrock first played for Miller as a 14-year-old freshman at Central. Today, as the 47-year-old superintendent of Osnaburg Local Schools, Finefrock basically served as Miller's boss the last six years.

He hasn't lost any of the admiration for the guy affectionally known to many as "Dooger."

"My first thought when he told me he was going to retire was, 'This is an extraordinary person,'" Finefrock said. "The accolades and the halls of fame and the records are obvious for everyone to look at. But for me, it's more personal. I just think of the resiliency and perseverance and character that he's demonstrated over the course of his career. I just think it's rare."

East Canton athletic director and baseball coach Doug Miller waves to the crowd before superintendent Kevin Finefrock presents him with a plaque Tuesday night. Miller is retiring as AD at the end of the school year, but still plans to coach baseball at East Canton.
East Canton athletic director and baseball coach Doug Miller waves to the crowd before superintendent Kevin Finefrock presents him with a plaque Tuesday night. Miller is retiring as AD at the end of the school year, but still plans to coach baseball at East Canton.

Miller, who never married or had children, truly dedicated his life to being a coach/educator.

He taught world history, sociology and health/physical education. He was Central's assistant athletic director for 12 years and head AD for two years before serving in that role for six years at East Canton.

He spent 17 years as an assistant football coach for another Central Catholic legend, Lowell Klinefelter.

And keep in mind, Finefrock didn't play baseball for Miller. He played basketball. Miller served as the Central Catholic girls basketball head coach from 1980-89 and the boys head coach from 1989-2002. He led the girls team to a Class AA state runner-up finish in 1981.

"For me personally, he was like this positive voice that just believed in me so much, so much more than I could ever believe in myself at that age," said Finefrock, a standout point guard who went on to play at Division I Rider University in New Jersey. "It was really one of the greatest lessons of life, of how powerful that is when someone truly believes in you that much and what special things can happen."

On the baseball field, Miller was blessed to coach a tremendous amount of talent at Central. And he made the most of it.

Jeff Lindesmith spent 27 years as Miller's baseball assistant, coaching third base and the Crusaders' hitters, before stepping away when he became Central's head football coach in 2014.

To Lindesmith, Miller's genius was in the details. From hitting the cutoff men to covering home plate on passed balls, Central worked on it.

And worked on it.

And worked on it.

"We demanded our kids to jog to the dugout after they struck out. We actually practiced that," said Lindesmith, who was on staff for the first two of Central's three state titles in baseball. "Our kids knew exactly what to expect. It was a great way to do it. There was nothing in the game that went on that we weren't prepared for."

Central Catholic head football coach Jeff Lindesmith talks with receiver Braylywn Tabellion on the sidelines against Mogadore, Friday Sept. 29, 2023.
Central Catholic head football coach Jeff Lindesmith talks with receiver Braylywn Tabellion on the sidelines against Mogadore, Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

Lindesmith laughed at some of the memories. There was a game at Wooster when Miller told his young, first-year assistant to be ready to coach because he planned to get thrown out due to an umpire he was at odds with.

Then the umpire wouldn't throw Miller out.

There was the time they lit the dirt portion of Central's infield on fire with gasoline to ensure it drying enough to get an early-season game in.

"We did play," Lindesmith said, before adding, "but I think it was going to dry out anyways."

Lindesmith, who led the Central football team to a state championship in 2016 after runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2015, called working alongside Miller a "true honor."

"His legacy to me is he was always there for the kids," Lindesmith said. "He always was there to bring the best out of the kids and make them good adults.

"He was excited for their success and he built them back up when things didn't go their way. He was always true that way. That's a fabulous attribute to be known for. Any sport is tough, but in baseball there is a lot of failures and you have to handle those things."

After spending two years as Central's JV baseball coach, Miller took over the varsity program in 1982. The Crusaders progressed through the decade, winning a district title in 1988.

The 1994 Crusaders started a ridiculous run of Central advancing to the district tournament 18 straight years. From 2001-16, Central won a total of 11 district championships.

After finishing as state runners-up in 1997 and 2003, Central broke through for the first state title in 2008.

Grant McCoury slugged two two-run home runs in the semifinal against Coldwater and pitched into the seventh inning. Miller brought in a relief pitcher when Coldwater got the first two runners on.

"It was about 95 degrees and Grant had pitched his butt off," Miller said. "I still remember the look he gave me when I took him out."

Sophomore Taylore Baker closed out that 5-4 win, then pitched a three-hit shutout the next day during a 8-0 win against Hamilton Badin in the state final.

"It meant the world to me and I was so happy for Doug," Lindesmith said. "Nobody deserved it more."

The 2011 Crusaders won it again, highlighted by Joe Tann's iron man performance. The senior right-hander earned the pitching wins in both regional games and both state games. He threw 140 pitches in the state semifinal, then came back to pitch 59 in the final two days later.

Central Catholic pitcher Joe Tann (left) meets with head coach Doug Miller and catcher Alex Grove during their 2011 state championship season.
Central Catholic pitcher Joe Tann (left) meets with head coach Doug Miller and catcher Alex Grove during their 2011 state championship season.

In 2015, Miller recalls a dominant, deep pitching staff led by Jake Vance and Patrick Murphy. During its seven-game tournament run, that Central team allowed four runs and committed one error.

"What did Ralph Miller say about making routine plays?" Doug Miller chuckled.

Doug Miller's time at Central ended abruptly in 2016 when the school declined to renew him as athletic director. Miller reluctantly accepted a buyout.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for a man who had spent 37 years at the handsome old school on West Tuscarawas Street in Perry Township. The baseball field bears his name.

"I'm at peace in my own way," Miller said. "With the way that panned out, I made up my mind I was going to move on and not look back."

Miller went 704-272 as Central's baseball coach.

Doug Miller, athletic director and baseball coach at East Canton High School.
Doug Miller, athletic director and baseball coach at East Canton High School.

His time with East Canton baseball included an 86-83 record and a 2019 IVC North championship — the Hornets' first league title of any kind since a 1968 Senate League championship. Their 13-12 record in 2018 marked their first winning season in 12 years.

He obviously walked into a much different situation at East Canton. The Hornets had 17 players on their roster this past season, the most of Miller's tenure. In 2022, East Canton played with 11 kids.

"As far as accomplishment, you've got to look at the overall picture and say, 'You know what, these kids did a good job,'" Miller said. "That's the way you have to look at it. Like John Wooden used to say, success is knowing you've done the best you could possibly do.'"

Miller feels like the program is well positioned for the future. He gives his assistant coach, Mike Schrader, a strong endorsement to be East Canton's next head coach.

As for what's next for him, Miller has no clue.

"This is about all I've known," he said.

His career spanned some major changes in high school baseball.

When Miller started, he recalled his teams often playing on all-dirt infields, at facilities with no dugouts or scoreboards. Today, all-turf infields are growing throughout the area and many schools have impressive overall baseball facilities.

Baseball was not taken as seriously in the early 1980s. As Miller joked, the baseball coach often was a football assistant looking for an extra stipend.

Now, it's a year-round sport for many athletes, who have personal hitting and pitching coaches.

But, to Miller, one thing never changed about coaching high school baseball.

"Kids were great in 1980, and kids are great in 2024," Miller said. "Kids want coaching and they want discipline. I found that to be true in 1980, and I found it to be true today."

Reach Josh at josh.weir@cantonrep.com

On X: @jweirREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: East Canton High School baseball coach Doug Miller retires

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