By many accounts, Reed McMillan was caustic and controversial, arrogant and abrasive; prone to busting chops and badgering umpires.
“Your first impression would be, ‘This guy is an obnoxious New Yorker,’” said Jim West, one of his former players.
But sift through the second and third impressions, and a fuller picture forms: a baseball lifer, rock-music zealot and trained chef with a pillowy heart beneath that harsh veneer. Committed to prolonging players’ dreams, he’d also provide them employment or a sofa on which to sleep.
“He would do anything for anybody,” said Adam Yanchuck, who played several summers for him. “If you touched Reed McMillan, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you.”
Mr. McMillan, who coached at various local levels but was best known for creating and serving as player-coach of the highly successful St. Petersburg Black Sox 19-and-over team, died on July 12 in Melbourne from complications related to COVID-19.
Mr. McMillan had broken his foot about a year ago and was undergoing rehab when the complications arose, his younger sister Kim said. He was 70.
“He was quite the character,” said Ken Winkle, an Osceola High alumnus who starred on the 1993 Black Sox team that made the American Amateur Baseball Congress World Series. “He would bust (chops) non-stop. Some guys didn’t like him because of the way he was, but you get to know him, it was more in a loving way.”
A conspicuous dugout presence with shaggy hair and a goatee, Mr. McMillan formed the Black Sox (also called the Yankees at some point in their existence) in the late 1980s, offering a competitive avenue in the summer for college players or guys who simply wanted to keep playing beyond high school.
Mr. McMillan himself would occasionally pinch-hit or catch the back end of a doubleheader, Winkle recalled.
“I saw a void in the county,” Mr. McMillan told the St. Petersburg Times in 1989. “There was no organized league for men 19 years and older to play. I felt a responsibility to try and give amateur baseball a chance in the county.”
Competing in the state’s Stan Musial League (affiliated with the American Amateur Baseball Congress), the Black Sox roster typically was loaded with former Pinellas County prep standouts competing for state colleges.
Winkle, a pitcher/third baseman, starred at Saint Leo, spent a number of years in the Royals organization and played professionally in Taiwan. West, a left-handed pitcher at Boca Ciega, competed in the College World Series for Miami before transferring to the University of Tampa, where he was part of the Spartans’ Division II national title team in ’93.
Armed with such talent, the Black Sox won six Stan Musial League state crowns in a seven-year span.
“We were unbeatable,” said Yanchuck, a Boca Ciega alumnus who also played at Eckerd College and caught several seasons for the Black Sox. “We played roughly 40 games in a season, we’d win 35 of ‘em, 36 of ‘em, and lose three or four. We had so much fun playing, it really wasn’t fair.”
Opponents heard the Sox coming from miles away. A devout AC/DC fan, Mr. McMillan would blare “Back in Black” — one of the legendary Australian quintet’s signature anthems — as the team traveled to weekend tournaments.
“We were cocky and arrogant just like he was,” Winkle said.
Yet some labeled Mr. McMillan a baseball mercenary, interested only in stacking his roster for a favorable end result. West, however, said McMillan more than once offered cash-strapped players work in his industrial-cleaning service, and even offered them a place to sleep if needed.
Yanchuck said Mr. McMillan often cooked for his own family, preparing duck especially for Yanchuck (because he knew he loved it), even if he made a different main dish for everyone else.
"He was someone that you would either love to death or you would hate," Yanchuck said. "If you loved him he would take the shirt off his back for you. He was one of a kind."
Invariably, that impulsiveness and verbosity alienated some. While coaching in the Azalea Little League in 1988, Mr. McMillan was involved in a physical altercation with a coach following a championship game, according to a St. Petersburg Times story. He was promoted from pitching coach to head coach at Canterbury in 2012, but was released less than a year later over philosophical differences with the administration.
He also spent two seasons as coach at Lakewood in the mid-1990s, and was a pitching coach at Dixie Hollins.
“He was a loudmouth, he was rude. He put together fantastic teams,” West said.
“I think one of the things that made him a good coach was, he didn’t get in the way of the players so much. He knew all the rules of the game and he knew how to deal with the umpires, but he also just put the best players on the field in the position they were good at, and let them win the game.”
Mr. McMillan, who was divorced, is survived by four children, three grandchildren and three siblings. A funeral service is scheduled for Oct. 4 at 5 p.m. at Huggins-Stengel Field in St. Petersburg’s Crescent Lake Park, Kim McMillan said.
“He didn’t care what people thought; he did him,” Yanchuck said. “He was one of a kind. I miss him dearly.”
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