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Justin Miller has never picked up a copy of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man
or watched the 1969 Rod Steiger flick based on the book
. But, as Pee-wee Herman told Dottie before they biked out of his own "life story" -- "I don't have to see it. I lived
it." Miller, 32,
is a big, friendly looking man with a shaved head and a casual sartorial style; when he met us at AT&T Park he was wearing a sweatshirt, jeans, and Chuck Taylors. Before elbow inflammation landed him on the 60-day disabled list, he'd amassed
a 3-3 record for the San Francisco Giants pitching in long relief. Like most baseball players, you wouldn't look at Miller and think "That guy must be a professional athlete" -- but you would
look at him.
When asked if he even knows how many tattoos he has, Miller shakes his head, smiles and admits he does not. "One," he says with a laugh. "Just say I have one big one." In short, Justin Miller is
a tattoo. If we attempted to describe, in detail, every last one of Miller's marks we'd crash the bandwidth on our server. In Major League Baseball circles, the 2003 stipulation that pitchers with arm tattoos must wear long sleeves -- the tats ostensibly distract batters -- is known as "The Justin Miller Rule."
Miller -- who hails from Torrance, Calif. and has a two-foot-high "L A" emblazoned across his back amid scores of other tats -- got his first tattoo on his 15th birthday. He was escorted to the parlor by his father, who'd struck a deal with the future Major Leaguer -- the elder Miller had noticed that Justin's buddies were showing up with tattoos older friends had given them out of garage-based studios. Miller's dad figured that if he couldn't stave off his son's budding desire to be inked up, he might as well "be done professionally, done right."
Incidentally, the elder Miller wasn't the ideal person to deliver a lecture about avoiding body art -- he, too, sported a tattoo that he'd often cover up and claim didn't exist: A peace sign with an Indian feather dangling off it adorned with the name of his wife, Ramona, and the word "lust." Yes, there was no way this man was talking Justin Miller out of getting tattooed.
The pitcher's first ink was the ponytailed head of a wise-looking Indian warrior on his left shoulder; Miller is part Mexican and part Cherokee, and homages to both cultures are abundant in his personal gallery.
Miller describes most of his tattoos as being of the "Los Angeles style" -- most are black and gray and depict stylized scenes of SoCal life, long-mustached, bandana-wearing Chicanos, or nightmarish, hallucinogenic scenes of leering skulls peering through chain-link fences, angels, and rather malevolent looking clowns -- lots of clowns. "I woke up one day and said, 'Oh crap, I've got a lot of clowns," says Miller with a chuckle. When he played two years in Miami, he started adding more colorful tats, as is the custom in Florida. So far, he hasn't added any works of the local style as he's not entirely sure what, exactly, comprises the local style.
Miller has just about got it covered -- he's marked up from head to toe and it's only his wife's insistence (and Major League Baseball's watchful eye) that keeps him from going higher -- though he does have a tat on the inside of his lip. The question he often receives, naturally enough, is "why"? Well, that's not an easy one.
"Some people like growing their hair long. I like getting tattooed," is how he puts it. As a younger man, there was an eagerness there to go under the needle -- "There was a time in my life when it was more about quantity than quality." But that desire has mellowed with age. "For the last few years, I've gone maybe once an off-season and tried to work on something or fill in something. It's more a fill-in-the-blanks kind of thing." With real estate at a premium, Miller has grown more discerning. The days of getting seven different tattoos from a guy named Mike who worked out of a trailer park are in the rearview mirror.
Still, once he hangs up his cleats, Miller may have to negotiate with his wife about the Miller Family Above The Neck Rule. "I hope one day to get something behind the ear or on my neck," he says with a devilish grin. "But maybe that's a little delusional thinking that."
In the meantime, Miller's eldest son, Joseph, is just a year younger than the pitcher was when he got his first tat (Miller, by the way, has been married to his wife, Jessica, for 11 years; the high school parents also have a 3-year-old named Johnnie). Would Miller take his own boy to the parlor as his dad did for him? No way.