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How a journeyman reliever was immortalized in the MLB rule book

The “Justin Miller rule” and inked up pitchers

Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

As part of my daily routine, I like to explore the historic transactions page on Baseball-Reference and look into the careers for various players and discover each of their unique stories.

Justin Miller

Justin Miller’s life centered around two things during his youth:




An athlete that had been successful at all things baseball during his adolescence, Miller played in the 1992 Little League World Series and later became an All-State conference player in high school and an All-American during his collegiate career. Sometime during his high school days, Miller procured his first tattoo - a tribal warrior meant to pay homage to his Native American ancestry.

After that first tattoo, Miller became obsessed with covering his body in a colorful array of ink.

During an interview with SD Weekly in 2009, instead of listing how many individual tattoos he had, he insisted it’d just be easier to say he had one big tattoo (he later estimated the number to be in the hundreds).

Meanwhile, Miller began his professional career in 1997 after being drafted by the Colorado Rockies. Then, he was traded to Oakland in a massive fou- way deal that also involved Vinny Castilla being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

While with Oakland, Miller overcame the injuries that plagued him with Colorado and he blossomed as a prospect, peaking at #84 overall on Baseball America’s top 100.

Entering the 2002 season, Miller was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays with whom he’d make his big league debut later on that year. Miller was exchanged for veteran Billy Koch, who just a few years later would forever be imprinted on Miller.

During Spring Training in 2005, the veteran Koch was back with the Toronto Blue Jays and became fascinated, like most people, with the amount of ink on Miller and asked if he’d be willing to put “I love Billy Koch” somewhere on his person. Always up for the opportunity for more tattoos, Miller promptly had “I <3 Billy Koch” on his posterior. Koch made sure to pay Miller for the advertising space and also paid Miller’s wife a tiny sum for the right to some of her spouse’s body. This wouldn’t be the last time a teammate requested to have a tattoo placed on Miller.

For those with curious eyes, here is a close cropped image of the tattoo.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays Photo Day

However, Justin Miller’s tattoos soon became a national headline for other reasons. The tattoos were so colorful and bountiful that they actually became a distraction for opposing hitters, leading them to complain to the league and to what is now known informally as the “Justin Miller Rule.” Declaring that pitchers with tattoos on their arms, must wear arm bands covering their ink as to not distract opposing hitters.

“We had [umpire supervisor] Jim McKean come in the other day and said that someone had complained about Justin’s tattoos and some of them are colored,” Toronto manager Carlos Tosca said. ”All they have done is ask that he wear sleeves when he pitches.”

So from that point on, Miller was forced to wear long sleeves each time he took the mound.

Undeterred by the new uniform requirement, Miller made a handful of appearance at the big league level for the Blue Jays but was plagued by poor performance as well as injury issues. He’d be released partway through the 2005 season.

Miller then came to the Devil Rays on a minor league deal for spring training in 2006, but was released in April to allow him to pursue an opportunity in Japan. He caught on with the Florida Marlins in 2007 and enjoyed a decent season, but that would be the high point of his career.

While with the Marlins, Miller’s tattoos would again become a focal point of attention from his teammates. Scott Olsen, who had been arrested for DUI, really wanted to get a tattoo of his mugshot placed on Miller’s posterior, but...that is just one tattoo that Miller just couldn’t get behind.

“I don’t think my wife wants to see Olsen’s picture there. So we’re not going to go with that.”

He would throw his last pitch in the big leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010 before leaving professional baseball in 2012. Sadly, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 35.