As winter chills New England, WBZ Boston radio sports reporter Jonny Miller’s thoughts turn to spring training in Florida. Having covered the Red Sox since 1972, Miller remembers the legendary Ted Williams visiting his old club in spring training and saying that with a little extra effort, an up-and-comer named Dwight Evans would be a dynamic player.
Miller, who recently turned 70, has seen them all: Williams and Evans; David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez; Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Throughout, Miller has been a constant. He usually asks the first question at every Red Sox postgame press conference.
In October 2018, however, he suffered a stroke while on a plane going to Game Three of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He missed the last three games of the series, which the Red Sox won, four games to one. He was hospitalized in Denver for a week, then spent seven weeks at Spaulding Rehab. Life suddenly became more challenging for the veteran broadcaster, who has cerebral palsy.
Today, he said, “Knock on wood, I’m feeling great.” And he’s ready for another spring training.
“It’s one of the times I really love,” he said. “I really love getting to know the players. It gives me a head start for the season.”
Since 1975, Miller had always driven to Florida for spring training. But in 2019, he flew down; longtime friend Neal Elliott gave him a ride to Logan Airport. Elliott recalled his astonishment at seeing Miller carrying a suitcase in each hand heading to the car. Elliott rushed to take them, not wanting his friend to injure himself. A few days before, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy had written a tribute about “the intrepid Jonny Miller,” Elliott recalled.
“He is intrepid,” Elliott said. “Shaughnessy really got the right word.”
Miller grew up in a Jewish family in Newton, went to Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, and followed the Red Sox as a fan during the 1967 Impossible Dream season. He continues to be recognized for his work, which also has included covering the Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots. This September, he was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, in a class that included WBZ-TV meteorologist Barry Burbank and Lisa Mullins, the voice of WBUR’s “All Things Considered.” The audience included one of Miller’s teachers from Bigelow Junior High in Newton, who is now 87 years old.
Miller said his teachers in Newton and his parents “were all great. I couldn’t be who I am today without their help.” He also credited his speech therapists and friends.
“I really had a tough time growing up with cerebral palsy,” Miller said. “I couldn’t tie my shoes ’til [age] nine.”
Elliott and Miller were classmates at the Franklin Elementary School. Elliott would go over Miller’s house to shoot baskets, play catch, or score Celtics games on the radio or Red Sox games on the family’s black-and-white TV. Elliott remembers when his friend would meet with a speech teacher. “It was part of what he had to do,” Elliott said. “Sometimes he invited me to come in and watch the last five minutes … I was able to understand him more and more clearly.”
Miller went to college at Boston University and began covering the Sox in 1972, when they fell a half-game short of the pennant. “I predicted that before the season even started,” he recalled. From 1975 onward, he covered every Sox game, up to the first two games of 2018 World Series.
“In my mind, Ted Williams was still the best hitter I ever saw,” he said. He compared Williams to a more recent Sox star, David Ortiz: “They were two clutch players, two dynamic personalities.”
Miller remembers Jewish players in past Sox lineups, including Gabe Kapler and Craig Breslow, as well as former Boston general manager Theo Epstein. New GM Chaim Bloom “seems to be really bright and smart,” Miller said.
Although Elliott does not listen to AM radio, he catches Miller’s interviews on TV when reporter Steve Burton cuts away from a sportscast to show them. Elliott notes that current Red Sox manager Alex Cora never asks Miller to repeat a question, nor does any Sox player. “It’s a testament to Jonny,” Elliott said. “He works so hard at what he has to do.”
Another longtime friend of Miller is former Boston Herald sports reporter Mike Shalin. The two have known each other since the early ’80s, before Shalin moved to Boston to begin a decades-long career covering the Red Sox and Boston College football for the Herald. Since 2003, Shalin has been an official scorer at Fenway, where he sits two seats from Miller.
“I guess he’s just an old pro,” Shalin said. “He’s been doing this a long time … He’s old-school, if you will. He has a certain way of doing things.”
Elliott also works at Fenway, as the park’s oldest vendor. He joins Miller at spring training, noting that his friend is “the first reporter who goes down to Fort Myers every year. He gets up at 4 a.m. and plans his whole day, setting up time for the interviews he’ll try to do.”
From Florida, Miller sends grapefruits and oranges to friends, including Shalin and Elliott. Shalin said that being generous is “what Jonny does,” adding, “He loves to give things to people.” It’s reciprocated. Last year, Shalin went to the rehab center where Miller was staying and gave the staff crucial information. “We were all able to help,” Shalin said of Miller’s friends.
Miller said he wants to keep working into his 90s, citing 99-year-old Minneapolis Star Tribune sports journalist and radio station personality Sid Hartman as “one of my inspirations.”
Jonny Miller is pretty inspirational himself.
“I overcame cerebral palsy,” he said. “I’m still working after 48 years or so. I still enjoy every minute of it.”