Every new Red Sox manager learns the protocol early. Over time, most will come to protect it, not out of protocol, but respect.
Jonny Miller, who has covered the Red Sox for WBZ Radio (1030) since the early 1970s, traditionally asks the first question at the manager’s press availabilities.
This is something current manager Alex Cora politely but firmly noted when another reporter tried to lead off the daily inquisition before Game 1 of the World Series in October. Cora turned to Miller, who posed his question. Then the other reporter got his turn.
Surely this would have been the arrangement as well after the World Series shifted to Los Angeles for Game 3. But Miller was not there. On his flight from Boston to LA, Miller, who was born with cerebral palsy, suffered a medical emergency.
The flight was diverted to Colorado, and he was rushed to the hospital. Word spread quickly in the Dodger Stadium press box and Red Sox locker room, too. Miller had suffered a stroke.
Now, Miller is known for something beyond being the manager’s first questioner: He annually arrives in Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training before the Red Sox even start thinking about taking inventory for Truck Day. Heck, Miller has been doing this long before the concept of Truck Day was even a glimmer in Dr. Charles Steinberg’s eye.
Which brings us to some excellent news. Miller has recovered well and will be heading to Fort Myers Friday for his 45th spring training.
He joked that he has his first question for Cora already in mind:
“What happened in the World Series, Games 3, 4 and 5?’’ he said with a laugh during a phone conversation Wednesday. “What happened? Did they win?’’
The first question to ask Miller was an obvious one: How are you doing?
“I feel normal right now,’’ he said. “I feel good, like I did before.’’
He acknowledged that it had been “a tough eight or nine weeks’’ at the beginning, first in the Colorado hospital and then at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he spent six weeks. He had one more appointment with his doctor Thursday before leaving, and he has made some concessions to his health.
“For the first time since 1975, I’m going to fly instead of driving there,’’ he said. But he notes with understandable pride that he got clearance to drive a car again this week.
He stays in the same place every year, close to JetBlue Park. He’ll be there early, of course, but not as early as intended — his plan before suffering the stroke was to head down Dec. 23.
He said there are plans for NBC News’s Harry Smith to visit and do a story on him sometime in the spring. But he’ll get right to work on Monday.
“David Price and Jackie [Bradley] live there, so there will be some players around,’’ he said.
Price was the co-star in a scene last August that eventually captured the essence of Miller’s approach to the job.
After Price pitched eight shutout innings in a win over Cleveland, Miller asked him during the postgame scrum, “You’ve been rolling now for the last six or seven weeks. What are some of the reasons you’ve been on fire?’’
Price responded, “I’ve made adjustments.’’
As Miller began to ask the natural follow-up — what were the adjustments? — Price cut him off.
“I’m not going to tell you, Jonny,’’ said Price. “You can go back and watch film. I’m not going to do your job for you.’’
Some took it as Price being standoffish, but Miller, who has a good rapport with the pitcher, laughed. The next day, having taken the homework assignment to heart, Miller showed up at Price’s locker to present his conclusions: The lefthander had changed his position on the pitching rubber and was mixing up his pitch usage, among other things. Price confirmed that he was correct.
(Apropos of nothing but my own amusement, my favorite question I’ve ever heard Miller ask came during Carl Crawford’s introductory press conference after he joined the Red Sox as a free agent in December 2011. Miller asked Crawford if he expected his stolen base total to go down now that he wouldn’t get to run against the Red Sox catchers.)
Miller knows he needs to be careful with his health. He said he felt OK in the days before suffering the stroke, but other people were telling him that something seemed to be wrong.
“The day before, I was kind of agitated, and people told me I was acting kind of strange, like I wasn’t myself,’’ he said. “I don’t know what happened, but I was told by a number of people, ‘Are you all right? Are you all right? And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
“Then [the next day] my plane ended up in Colorado.’’
“Everybody tells me: slow down,’’ he said. “I probably won’t slow down.’’