“It’s just a part of the morphing into a new role,” said the 50-year-old forever-young-looking Miller, enjoying another iced tea at an outdoor restaurant Wednesday on a non-snowy winter day in Hollywood. Miller logged 17 years at ESPN, spending many a night on “SportsCenter” or “Baseball Tonight” or as a dugout reporter on regional games. It was ESPN who sent him out this way in 1999 to succeed Chris Myers as the host of Roy Firestone-created “Up Close.” That lasted only three years before it was eventually, and unfortunately, phased out. In the process, he met his future wife, Lisa Marie, a North Hollywood native who was the show’s office manager. Taping the show out of the Anaheim ESPN Zone restaurant, Miller was able to start a family in Santa Ana with now 5-year-old daughter Calle and 2-year-old son Rigley (that’s as in Wrigley Field, but minus the “W”). Some regional biases die harder than others. But Miller knew as soon as he landed in this part of the country that he wanted to stay. “I knew as I was doing (`Up Close’) that it was the greatest job I’d ever have, and looking back, I think the industry as a whole is missing a good, unedited interview show like that one,” Miller said. “It bugged me that the network was going more and more away from interviewing athletes and more to having their own analysts like (Peter) Gammons or a (Sean) Salisbury provide the soundbites to the day’s news. Maybe it’s because they’re not afraid to say things that an athlete that’s too middle-of-the-road won’t say.” For the Chicago-area native whose sports TV career was shaped by long stops at the all-sports monolith in Bristol, Conn., as well as in Atlanta during the growing stages of CNN and Headline News, the mistaken identity is understandable. But a year has gone by since KCAL-Channel9 hired him as a weekend anchor and co-host for the station’s Dodgers pregame telecasts. A recent year-long run on KSPN-AM (710) as an afternoon host on a show called “West Coast Bias” could be an even bigger clue to his region of choice for those still confused. How can it not crack up Gary Miller every time he’s walking through an airport or a crowded a baseball stadium and he gets recognized. Sort of. “Someone will say, ‘Hey, I just saw you last night on ESPN,”‘ Miller said. “OK, even though I haven’t done a `SportsCenter’ in eight years …”
We interrupt this story for an “Up Close”-esque segue: Some in the media industry assumed Miller’s reassignment to California was part of a career makeover. It came a year after an infamous incident in Cleveland, where Miller went through the embarrassment of an arrest for urinating out a second-story window on to two off-duty police officers on the night before the Cleveland Indians were to play the Baltimore Orioles in an American League playoff game at Jacobs Field. Do an Internet search for the story, and the version of what happened in the newspapers, and what Miller actually remembers taking place, are quite different. Miller says he was definitely drinking at the open-bar party, hosted by the American League. He needed to use the restroom but the lines were too long, so he grabbed an empty beer bottle and filled it up. The next thing he knew, he was getting a tap on the shoulder by police officers and being handcuffed. Newspaper reports quoted the police as saying he had “an instrument used for drugs” – Miller said it was a plastic dental pick – and the reported “residue” in his pockets were from aspirin and Rolaids. Charged with indecency, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, Miller immediately pleaded not guilty, and changed it in the December trial to no-contest. The way the story was reported – and it happened shortly after media frenzy over Marv Albert’s arrest for assaulting a sexual partner in a hotel room – has a profound affect on how Miller takes his journalistic approach to dealing with information about an arrested athlete or someone who’s going through public scrutiny. “I was angry about all the misinformation, and I was aware of it immediately,” he said. “When I was released, there were other reporters waiting to talk to me and I said, `You better get your facts right before you put them out there.’ “All that really did change me. It’s not like I was 20 in a frat house where it was some badge of honor. The thing that bothered me most was that the stories said, `Gary Miller, 40 …’ That’s not what I wanted to be doing with my life. I haven’t had a drink since. “But I did put myself in that situation. Since then, I had to interview athletes such as a Doc Gooden or Darryl Strawberry, and I guess I felt I could relate more to them after having my own public incident and the repercussions that go with it, having your life played out in the media.” A strong spiritual force in Miller’s life also helped him reach a moment of epiphany after the incident. Having thick skin helps, too, when an employer lets you go without warning, which is basically what happened with him when KSPN-AM dropped him suddenly in November. Station management said Miller wasn’t opinionated enough, but somehow, the show he co-hosted with D’Marco Farr was successful enough that performance bonuses were kicking in for reaching certain ratings plateaus. Miller says he’s still receiving checks in the mail for that. “Based on my experience in the industry, it was not related at all to the content of the show, but to save money,” said Miller, who had been at the station for several years prior to the regular spot. “I’ve experienced almost every manner of discontinuation, but being let go for too much success and record ratings was a first. It was dumbfounding, especially when management said it takes 18 months for a show to really get running, and we had been doing it just a year.” The “bad taste” he says that is left from that radio gig is compounded by the fact that Farr, whom he recruited to join him for the show, hasn’t made any contact with him since then. There must be some strange reason, then, why KSPN feels compelled to keep Miller on the payroll. Tom Hoffarth is a columnist for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!