Bill Miranda was the last of the “Great Eight,” the founding head coaches of the Ashland Little League. He passed away last weekend at the age of 96 with complications from the coronavirus.
Handpicked by Ellis Johnson back in 1955, the first eight coaches (managers) in the Ashland Little League were George Conley, Bill Selbee, Bob Yancey Sr., Windy Kazee, Ellis Childers, John Wellman, Carl “Potts” Wheeler and Miranda.
Johnson, who was one of Ashland’s most celebrated athletes and a progressive leader in the city, was highly respected. He got the ball rolling on bringing Little League to Ashland. He knew it was critical to have the right coaches, so he chose men who were not only knowledgeable in baseball but who cared for the community’s children.
Miranda, who was a World War II hero who was on the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day and was awarded a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, was a perfect selection as one of the first coaches. He was invested in the community, content on raising his family in Ashland and making baseball even better than it already was here.
Roger Robinson played in the inaugural season as a 10-year-old and then for the next two seasons for the Yankees, who was Miranda’s team. He also lived next door to him later in life for many years on Hackworth Street.
“As a baseball coach, he was very knowledgeable,” Robinson said. “He was a very aggressive coach but very kind to kids. If you made a mistake, he’d kind of laugh and tell you how to correct it. He would never berate you.”
Miranda’s players were devoted to him and played hard. It didn’t matter to him the social status of his players either. “Names” didn’t matter to him, but talent did.
“He knew talent,” Robinson said. “When I played for him, we had some of the best players in the city. He would always look for underprivileged kids that spent a lot of time outside on the sandlots. He knew they were the ones really interested in playing.”
Most of the first managers had semi-professional baseball playing experience but not Miranda, who once told me he “tagged around with the other guys” but wasn’t sure why they chose him to be one of the first to manage. But he proved to be an outstanding choice.
Miranda’s wife, Marie, was part of the package. She was the official scorekeeper for the Ashland Little League in the first season and was involved in some of the coaching, Robinson said.
“They were a team,” Robinson said. Marie and Bill were married for 32 years before she passed away in 1978. He later remarried.
The first draft in the Ashland Little League happened in June 1955. Tryouts had been held so the coaches were able to get a good look at what was available. The city had a dividing line for drafting purposes between the National League and American League with four teams in each league.
Instead of a draft with each team taking turns at selecting players, the managers were given 3,500 points to bid on players. Miranda called it “false money” when I interviewed him in 1995.
An outstanding player would go for 1,000 points, but managers had to manage their points carefully because each team would carry a 15-player roster. Sons still played with fathers and brothers with brothers – at least most of the time.
Miranda made the highest bid for “Long” John Barrow, but, as fate would have it, didn’t get his brother, Wilson Barrow, because Wilson’s name was put down as Barrow Wilson on the roster sheet.
Childers, the Red Sox manager, got “Barrow Wilson” who turned out to be one of the league’s better pitchers and players.
The Barrows were two of the first black players in Ashland Little League.
“He should have been on my team but wasn’t,” Miranda told me in that interview 25 years ago. “I should have got him free (because his brother was on the Yankees). I always did say that Ellis put that name down that way. Wilson beat me many a time. If I’d had Wilson, nobody would have beaten me.”
Robinson, who was a star pitcher, was 12-0 during his last year of Little League and had several showdowns with Barrow on the mound for the Red Sox.
Miranda had a good eye for talent and many of his players went on to be stars for the Ashland Tomcats including Ernie Daniels and Ray Hoak.
“Bill was a real influence in the neighborhood with the kids,” Robinson said. “Gary Wright, Robert Wright, Carolyn and Tony all lived across the street from Bill. When I was growing up on Hackworth Street, we had 35 kids on this street. We always had a ballgame going on someplace and Bill was right in the middle of it.”
Miranda was also able to coach his three sons, Richard, Billy and Carl, who were all good athletes.
Robinson said Miranda, who worked 44 years at the Armco steel mill, was fair to everyone. It didn’t matter social standing or race to him.
“If he saw a boy being done wrong by somebody, you better watch out because you had Bill to fight,” Robinson said.
Ashland Little League was lucky to have men like Miranda and the rest of the “Great Eight” leading the early charge that would eventually lead the Tomcats to three consecutive high school state championships from 1966-68.