Regular visitors of this website, or followers of our Twitter account already know about my obsession with this image. I post it at least twice a month. Whether it’s in response to “What’s the greatest moment in sports history?” or “Show us your pick for the most iconic photo of our generation”, I can’t help myself from uploading it without a caption. The image is clearly neither of those moments, but it never fails to make me laugh when I post it.
Self-evidently it is then Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Wade Miley, milking a cow. You’ve seen it before, and you’ve probably wondered – ‘why is Wade Miley milking a cow?’
Well, I can answer that for you.
He’s milking a cow in a 2015 pre-game contest against the then Texas Rangers reliever Ross Ohlendorf. Because of course he is.
The picture, as you can see, is focused on the rear half of the cow, with both of Miley’s arms outstretched, grasping the poor wretch’s udders. At first glance, it looks like Miley is staring down the lens of the camera. His eyebrows are raised, mouth slightly open, with the shocked/disbelief look of a small child caught with their hand in the biscuit tin. However, if you look carefully, he’s not staring down the lens. He’s staring slightly off centre of the frame, over the top of the lens. Maybe he’s staring directly at the photographer as they press down on the shutter release. Screams of “This isn’t what it looks like” fill Wade Miley’s head as the memory card of the camera is filled with countless, time-stamped copies of the image.
It’s this hint of disbelief, this mask of terror that makes the picture so wonderful – ’10 years as a serviceable Big League starter and this is how they’ll remember me’ it visibly gasps; ‘you may ask yourself, how did I get here?’
It’s usually at this part in posts like this one, where I come up with some deep story about how the picture touched me during an important time of my life. Or how it changed the way I approached things, how it lifted me during dark times or made me slow down in my wild ways.
Sorry to disappoint, but it didn’t. It’s just plain funny.
There’s so much about it that looks staged, yet it’s not.
It’s a reportage photo, no prompting, direction, management, it’s free flow. It’s just Wade Miley, milking a cow, longingly wondering why this is his fate.
I don’t remember when my fascination with the picture started, it must have been soon after the notorious milking contest, as a search of my tweets from the start of June 2015 shows multiple uses in quick succession.
It’s a picture that has brought me so much joy and I imagined it would continue to do so in the future.
I didn’t realise what it would cause on the morning of the 10th July 2019.
10th July 2019
I rarely look at the new followers on the Bat Flips and Nerds twitter account, this isn’t an ego thing, it’s a time management thing. We get a steady stream of followers joining the account, along with a steady stream of mentions, I prioritise the mentions first and work back from there.
For some reason, @harveyshepard drew my attention. His profile photo is a side on shot of his bearded and bespectacled face with a “Beer” sign in the background. Nothing to really draw someone in (no offence Harvey), yet I still clicked on his profile. I’m so glad I did.
His “cover image” (the image behind his profile picture on Twitter Mobile) was another shot of the Wade Miley cow milking photo. Instead this time it was Miley and Ohlendorf in shot and clearly taken at a different time to the one I adore.
I immediately began taking a screenshot and cropping the profile as a WhatsApp message came through from John McGee (co-founder of this website), it read “Check our newest follower’s header picture”.
I replied with the screenshot (Which contained the notification of his message) of Harvey’s profile page and the line “Literally on it.”
I was excited to see another human appreciating this fine piece of media.
As I stood in front of my small bathroom mirror, about to conduct my daily and mandatory shave, my brain fired into action. I began to wonder what affect the cow milking contest had on the pitchers? Did these two even pitch that day? Would they remember the contest it if I tried to reach out to them? Would they care? Maybe I could contact some other players who were there that day?
As I placed the razor down and washed the excess shaving foam off my face, I decided it was time to do some research and attempt to finally put the story behind this photo to rest.
The International Dairy Food Association (IDFA) celebrates National Dairy month in June. This started as the National Milk Month in 1937, as a way to promote drinking milk. The name soon changed to “Dairy Month”, which according to the IDFA website “…is a great way to start the summer with nutrient-rich dairy foods.”. As part of Dairy Month, Major League Baseball also takes part in the celebrations, this seemingly comes in the form of a cow-milking contest. One assumes there is a rather hefty sponsorship price thrown into the deal too.
There doesn’t seem to be any set rules on the contest, except there is a time limit (Between 60-90 seconds) and a bucket, in which the milk is required to be collected. There was one competitor who managed to have their bucket kicked over, causing them to lose the contest. At the end of the time limit, the buckets of milk are poured into separate receptacles, and whomever has generated the most milk, wins.
The history of cow milking in baseball goes back to 1968 with Charlie Finley, owner of both versions of the Athletics from Kansas City and Oakland. The book “The New Biographical History of Baseball: The Classic – Completely Revised” calls Finley a “Blowhard, innovator, tyrant and miser…”. There is reference to the team moving from Kansas to Oakland and Finley having “good teams” in California. More importantly to us though, moving the A’s did not stop the pregame promotions of “milking cows and chasing greased pigs”. Maybe we’ll save the soggy swine pursuits for another time.
In 1977 we even have pictorial evidence of the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians also continuing the tradition of cow-milking pregame, with this marvellous picture from a @BSmile tweet:
Cow Milking Contest – Toronto #BlueJays vs. Cleveland #Indians at Municipal Stadium (c.1977) #MLB #CowAppreciationDay pic.twitter.com/CwfYb0Ywff
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) July 9, 2019
Fast forward to the modern day and there are more examples of pregame cow-milking, including names such as; George Kottaras, David Price, Alex Wilson, Archie Bradley, Eduardo Escobar, Alex Claudio, Yusei Kikuchi and finally a personal favourite of this very website, Robbie Ross Jr.
Robbie Ross Jr. was expecting to go to the University of Kentucky prior to the 2008 amateur draft, however when the Texas Rangers selected him in the second round, he couldn’t say no. He made his Major League debut on the 8th April in 2012, pitching for the Rangers, he threw a scoreless inning of relief against the Chicago White Sox. He finished his debut season with a 2.22 ERA.
Ross Jr. later gained popularity in Boston after his 2015 trade, spending a season attempting to catch home runs in the bullpen during games. Sounds reasonable? Well Robbie was only using his hat to make the catches, sans glove. He also picked up the nickname “The Lawnmower” from famed Boston Red Sox diehard and writer Jared Carrabis, the name was used to described him mowing down opposition when pitching. However, as fun as that stuff is, it doesn’t matter in this story. Because the real highlight is that Robbie Ross Jr. didn’t just compete in one pregame cow milking contest, but two.
“I played in Texas for three years in the big leagues and I was the main guy who went out there and milked the cow!” Robbie wrote in an e-mail reply. I asked him about the Wade Miley and Ross Ohlendorf showdown from 2015, did he remember it?
“Yeah I remember the event, because I wanted to do it.”
So why didn’t RRJ take part?
“I got to do it two years in a row (with Texas) and lost both times. Except I should have won the second time, the cow moved and kicked my bucket over. It was a crushing defeat!”
It seems the Cow Milking Contest Selection Committee for the Boston Red Sox (I’m sure they exist) didn’t trust Robbie Ross Jr. after his last two attempts and went with dairy-farmer Miley instead. This was a rough year for the ace-less Sox who clearly saw this as an opportunity to bring home some bronze.
We obviously know all about Miley’s role in the piece, but what of his opponent, Ross Ohlendorf?
When I first tried to contact Ross Ohlendorf, I did what any writer would do. I searched for him on social media. When I turned up a blank, I used his Baseball Reference page to try and seek contact information through his agent.
Again, another blank.
After some more digging I eventually had an in. I started my e-mail to Ross in true British fashion, with an apology. I then went on to explain why I was contacting him and sent the picture of Wade Miley.
8 hours later, I received a reply. The e-mail opened with:
That is quite the picture…”
Ohlendorf started his journey to the Majors in the 2004 amateur draft, when he was selected in the 4th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, he never made it to the Majors in Arizona, as he was traded in 2007 to the New York Yankees, a deal that saw Randy Johnson go the other way.
Between 2007 and 2012 he only really stood out for one season. This was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 where he made 29 starts, achieved a 11-10 record, a 3.92 ERA and an ERA+ of 106. Unfortunately for Ohlendorf, the next three years his stats declined with his starts becoming more infrequent. Between 2010 and 2012 for the Pirates and San Diego Padres, he had a 5.80 ERA over 39 starts and just 195.2 innings pitched.
He was granted free agency from the Padres in June 2012, he then later signed as a free agent with the Nationals in January 2013.
Ohlendorf pitched well for the Nationals big league team (3.28 ERA over 60.1 IP), but was released in October 2014. Finally, we reach the part of the journey we were waiting for, as the Texas Rangers came calling in January 2015 to become Ohlendorf’s seventh team.
Fast forward to 29th May 2015, the day of the contest. I asked Ross when he first heard of the contest:
“From what I remember, I first heard about the contest that day. We have one of the most successful registered Texas Longhorn businesses (Rocking O Longhorns), and I would usually volunteer for anything agriculture related in the pre-game.”
I’d managed to find approximately ten previous cow milking contests in modern baseball history, so how regular were they, specifically in baseball?
“Of course those opportunities don’t come along too often – the only other [agriculture]-related opportunity was to catch the first pitch thrown by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in 2009 when I was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That opportunity led to an internship at the Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC that offseason.”
With his upbringing on the Longhorns ranch, there was no surprise that Ohlendorf was genuinely excited about the contest:
“I think some of the players who had been on the team the year before nominated me when they heard it was time for the contest again, and I eagerly agreed to participate.”
So Ohlendorf was selected by his team mates and he was ready to take part. With him growing up on and helping run a Longhorns ranch, I naïvely assumed he would have plenty of experience when it came to milking cows:
“We do not have dairy cows, and my only milking experience had been on a field trip in elementary school. In the generations before me, our family had milk cows to provide milk for their own consumption, but it was not something I had grown up around.”
Wait, Ohlendorf went into the contest blind? Did he have to drag up old memories or maybe throw down a quick Google Search of “how do you milk a cow?” – No. In the words of Team Sky Cycling guru, Dave Brailsford, Ohlendorf managed to grab a few “marginal gains”:
“I did get a little home field advantage – the owners of the cows agreed to give me a brief tutorial before the contest. I’m not sure if Wade ever knew about that. I think it made a big difference.”
Note – Wade Miley was not available to comment on this Ohlendorf bombshell.
And was Wade a big milker?
“My understanding is that he grew up with dairy cows, so I think he had milked them plenty of times before.”
The cows were ready, the buckets shined, the stools levelled, it was almost time to begin. Ohlendorf was going up against the great Wade Miley, a man that not only grew up with dairy cows, but also wrestled a snake in the Red Sox dressing room during Spring Training that year. Did Ohlendorf really believe he could win? Was he that fussed about winning?
“I definitely wanted to win, both for myself and the Rangers. It just felt like a contest where the Texas team should beat the Boston team. I knew it would be tough to beat Wade, but I felt I had a chance after getting to practice.”
It was time. Any final words between Ohlendorf and Miley?
“I talked to Wade about it but don’t remember the specifics. I think we both wanted to win but also felt it was just fun (and a little awkward) to be out there doing that in front of all the fans.”
It is a little awkward.
I took part in the “Boomstick Challenge” recently at the MLB London Series, a mammoth task of eating a 2ft hotdog in less than 3 minutes and 50 seconds (Spoiler alert – I failed). It was against the clock, but also against my co-founder of this very website, John McGee.
The challenge felt like a great idea prior to the event, it still felt good on the day of the event, it felt a little awkward as a crowd formed around us when we sat down for the event. I initially would have liked to win. I knew I couldn’t beat the time, but I did get a feeling of “It would be nice to beat John”, as the crowd grew and the phones came out to record the event I just thought “I have to win.”
Ohlendorf wanted to win, he said earlier that it felt like Texas “should beat the Boston team”. He didn’t want to win, he had to win.
“Is this your first time?” the presenter says. “First time in a long time” replies Ohlendorf.
The contest was on, Boston Red Sox Vs Texas Rangers, Starter Vs Reliever, Dairy Cow Expert Vs. Longhorn Expert:
As quickly as it begun, the contest was over, Ross Ohlendorf had won.
He had done it for the inexperienced competitor, he had done it for Texas, he had done it for the starters turned relievers, he had done it for himself.
When I asked about his technique, he gave evidence of great “coachable” traits for anyone who would consider taking him on in the future.
“The cows’ owners suggested I pace myself. I noticed Wade would go in quick bursts but would then have to slow down. I think pacing myself may have made the difference.”
And then, as Ross seemed to do throughout his e-mail conversations with me, he went very humble.
“I barely beat him, and I think he would have won if I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice.”
You may have barely beaten him Ross, but you certainly won the admiration of a 36-year-old father of two who should know better than to spend hours writing about pregame cow-milking contests.
As for Wade Miley, I tried to contact him via various methods (officially and unofficially), but, somewhat unsurprisingly, he was unable reply to my bizarre questions. It was a long shot, but I couldn’t end this article without saying I tried.
What have we learned? Well the big thing for me-
No, not yet.
I had a list of people I wanted to talk to at the bottom of this document, and there, burning my eyes right now is “*Holy Grail – Talk to Wade Miley*”. The final name on my list of “Must haves”. So maybe this isn’t the end of the post? Maybe this is just “Part 1” and I’ll revisit this when Wade becomes available.
More importantly though, I can’t believe I’ve managed to go a whole 2,700+ words and not a single pun.
Best not milk it, eh?