Dozens of notable players have taken part in a World Series while members of the Yankees. That includes many All-Stars, Hall of Famers, and countless other solid players. However, the first action by any Yankee in a World Series game came from someone who would be out of the majors less than a year later.
Elmer Miller first broke into major league baseball with the Cardinals in 1912. While there is some confusion about how old he is exactly, he came to prominence playing semi-pro baseball in his early 20s. He was picked up by a team in the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, which in turn got him on the major league radar.
Miller recorded two hits in his debut with St. Louis, but struggled after that, leading to his release in May of that season. He spent most of the next three seasons in the minor leagues, going through many ups and downs. He happened to be on an up in July 1915, as the Yankees decided to grab him. He would play parts of the next four seasons in New York, although he recorded just an 82 OPS+ in 949 plate appearances during that time. After that, he returned to the minors.
It took a couple seasons, but Miller would eventually return to New York thanks to some big seasons while a member of the St. Paul Saints. After hitting 18 home runs in 1921, the Yankees would bring him back to the big leagues, over three years after his last appearance.
Miller made his return on August 7th. He got off to a quick start, going 7-17 in his first five games. He cooled off a bit after that, but then the calendar turned to September. In the final month of the regular season, Miller hit .309/.364/.475, and became the team’s regular lead off hitter. The one time he didn’t hit first, he hit third, the spot normally occupied by Babe Ruth. He very much became a key cog of the team, as they went from second place to winning the AL by 4.5 games over the final month of the season.
After all that, not surprisingly, Miller was chosen to bat lead off in Game One of the World Series against the Giants. All games of the series were to be played at the Polo Grounds, the home stadium of both teams. The Yankees were the designated away team in the first game. As it was their first World Series appearance, that meant Miller’s at-bat to lead off the game meant he was the first Yankee to take part in a World Series game.
Miller got the Yankees off to a perfect start, singling and then scoring a couple batters later on a Babe Ruth single. The Yankees ended up taking the opening game by a score of 3-0. They followed that up with a win of the same score in Game Two, with Miller drawing a walk. That’s about as good as it would get for him and the team.
The Yankees would win one more game, but lost the best of nine series 5-3. They scored just 13 total runs in their five losses. Meanwhile, Miller finished the series 5-31. His .407 OPS was the worst of any Yankee player who took part in all eight games.
Miller started the following season still as the Yankees regular lead off hitter. After a good start, he returned to his below average pre-1921 hitting numbers. That would eventually lead to the Yankees including him in a July trade with the Red Sox. The prize of that deal would be Joe Dugan, who helped the Yankees to their first three championships.
Not only would Miller miss out on the Yankees barrage of titles, he wouldn’t play in major league baseball for much longer after that. Following the trade, he struggled even worse than he had been. At the end of that season, he had not been offered a contract by the Red Sox and retired from organized baseball. He signed with a semi-pro team that was described as “not being in good standing.” When that contract expired, he had to be reinstated before signing with any major or minor league team. He was technically signed to several minor league teams, but never played a professional baseball game again.
Elmer Miller is forever an answer to a trivia question. His quick rise and equally quick fall from being the Yankees lead off hitter in the 1921 World Series is something you won’t see much of in modern times.