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Macho Low, Part 3: Joe Millette kept shortstop warm for Kevin Stocker

The Phillies had a hole at shortstop in 1993. Joe Millette did not fill that hole.

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The Trading Card Data Base

There were some big personalities on the 1993 Phillies. But they weren’t the only ones. As part of a commemoration of the team’s 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the back-ups, drop-ins, and less-remembered Phillies who didn’t make it into a lot of the archival footage.

Joe Millette, SS

Position: Juan Bell-Kevin Stocker in-between guy

Age: 27

Stats: 2-for-10, 2 RBI, 3 R, 10 G

Walnut Creek lies deep in California’s East Bay region, less than 20 miles from Oakland. You most certainly know it as the home base of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, ARF, which he started after rescuing a stray cat that meandered onto the field at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium during an A’s game in 1990.

Two years later, Walnut Creek’s own Joe Millette would debut as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, taking the baton from a lost cat to continue the town’s baseball legacy. As David M. Jordan wrote in “Occasional Glory: The History of the Philadelphia Phillies,” Millete “could not hit major league pitching at all.” This is only half true. He also could not really hit minor league pitching.

His first few years in the minor leagues, Millette popped up in places with names that sound like they’re being barked by Lyle Lanley: Spartanburg. Batavia. Clearwater. These were the towns where the Phillies’ finest prospects lived in the early ‘90s before being promoted to terrible major league baseball teams. His slash lines at S-burg, which not called that (.239/.344/.287), and Battyville, which was also not known in this way (.238/.304/.310), were comparable in their low output. Those 1989 Spartanburg Phillies included some future 1993 Phillies teammates of Millette’s: Mickey Morandini. Doug Lindsey. Someone named Tom Marsh was also there. And as far as the major leagues are concerned, no one else.

In 1990 with the Threshers, Millette hit .183 through 108 games, with only five extra-base hits. The Phillies would not be deterred from promoting him, however, and with Reading in 1991 he hit his first professional home run—three of them, in fact, giving his offensive numbers the punch they had always needed to be just about as not good as they’d always been. In 1992, he debuted in the major leagues in mid-July against the Dodgers, grounding into a double play and getting hit by a pitch from Los Angeles reliever and, through insane coincidence, fellow Walnut Creek native Tom Candiotti (Other Walnut Creek natives? Dan Haren, Steph Curry, Kyle Gass, and Lars Ullrich). Jim Fregosi welcomed the rookie by pinch hitting for him in the eighth with Jeff Grotewold, a man who also was not good at hitting.

Three years later, the 1993 Phillies started the season with a big hole at shortstop—Juan Bell, considered the one man in the clubhouse not integrated into the team’s infamous chemistry, got the opening day start. By June 1, Bell had been traded, and Lee Thomas turned to his minor league farm assets, where a young shortstop was waiting to get his big chance. And before that young shortstop was Kevin Stocker, it was Joe Millette, who was 27 at this point. He was likely elated to join the Phillies for about a month of whatever comes out of Lenny Dykstra’s mouth when he’s hitting over .300.

Millette made an impact on June 23 without even getting hit by a pitch. Accidentally reaching base on a play designed for him to get out on purpose, he made it to first on a throwing error after a sacrifice bunt, then scored on a bases loaded walk. After the Phillies batted around, Millette returned to the plate with the bases loaded again and earned an RBI working a seven-pitch walk from Braves hurler Steve Bedrosian, the third Atlanta pitcher of the evening. Bedrosian, Mark Wohlers, and Greg McMichael had been dispatched from the Braves’ bullpen, only to incur the full brunt of the Phillies offense, allowing four walks, three RBI singles, Millette reaching on the error, and a wild pitch. The Phillies pounded their future NLCS victims that day with an 8-3 win, one of the seven they’d pull off with Millette on the roster. They’d actually go 7-3 with him around.

But he wasn’t around for long. Thomas, after some crack research, realized he might have promoted the wrong rookie shortstop. Kevin Stocker, who had been hitting .233 with AAA Scranton, got the call on July 7, about a week after Millette’s last Phillies game. But the Phillies had hoped all season for a shortstop who could stop and hit the ball. Millette was considered a defensive specialist, but the stabilization of the position’s future was clearly on Stocker’s shoulders.

Millette played in minor league ball until 1997, when he’d put up his best numbers (.268 BA, .686 OPS) as a 31-year-old in Seattle’s farm system. The next season, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx were the Cubs’ AA affiliate, featuring Bo Porter and Jose Molina; guys who were cited for their intelligence quotient and labeled future coaches. Millette gave those Diamond Jaxx his three final at-bats. He grounded into a double play.

But Millette held onto that observational prowess that made him a skilled defensive middle infielder and took it to the coaching circuit. He was the assistant coach of his son’s little league team and took them all the way to the championship last year in California. Working through Get Up & Go Baseball, a baseball clinic for children in his hometown of Walnut Creek, he co-authored the book “Drills and Instruction for Coaching Youth Baseball,” a positively reviewed guide that clearly none of my coaches had access to during my rise to baseball mediocrity.

In time, we all find our baseball callings. Many of us are not players. Some of us are not even doers, insiders, or knower-abouters. But just because Millette was an ancillary part of one of Philadelphia’s most famous baseball teams, doesn’t mean he didn’t make an impact. In fact, he made enough of one to rise beyond mere coaching: These days, Joe Millette coaches the coaches.