Dec 26, 2015

1973 N.L. Champion Mets First Baseman: The Hammer- John Milner (1971-1977)

John David Milner was born December 28, 1949 in Atlanta Georgia. In 1966 The Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta & Milners baseball idol; Hank Aaron was now playing in his hometown. Eventually Milner was nicknamed "The Hammer" after his idol Henry Aaron. The six foot, left hand hitting outfielder / first baseman, was drafted by the New York Mets in the 14th round of the 1968 draft.

He showed power & soon became a highly touted power hitting prospect in the Mets organization. The Hammer had a unique batting stance, standing on top of the plate with his legs straight & close together. He waved his bat very slowly & if the pitcher took too much time, he’d step out. He managed to squeeze a small strike zone, and with his good eye drew a lot of walks. Milner was a pure fast ball hitter with quick wrists.

In 1969 he hit .326 with 15 HRs at A Ball Visalia, which was a home run hitters paradise. He was promoted to Pompano Beach, where hit three more HRs playing in 17 games. In 1970 he hit 20 HRs leading the AA Memphis club, while batting .297 & driving in 71 runs. By 1971 he was playing at the AAA level with the Tidewater Tides. Milner hit 19 HRs with 27 doubles & 87 RBIs, while batting .290 in 133 games and he had to be brought up to the big league squad.

At age 21, he got the September call up. Milner debuted on September 15th, 1971 at Shea Stadium in a double header loss to the Chicago Cubs. He came to bat as an 8th inning pinch hitter, facing Bill Hands grounding out, in the Mets 6-0 loss. In the nightcap he made his first start, inserted in left field & batting third. He singled in the bottom of the 9th to get his first MLB hit, but was stranded on base in the 3-2 loss. He played in nine games that month going 3-18 (.167) overall.

Milner had a great Spring Training in 1972 and was voted- the Mets rookie of that spring. In April he made just one start, playing in six games overall finishing the month batting .444.

When the Mets acquired New York legend & future Hall of Famer: Willie Mays from the Giants, the Shea fans sometimes got fustrated if Milner was in the line up instead of Willie. The popular Mays was 40 years old when he came returned to New York, certainly no longer an everyday player, but the fans loved him & wanted to see him on the field. Milner would be called in to pinch hit for him in as well as get used as a late inning defensive replacement.

Eventually with a somewhat crowded outfield, Milner would move over to play more at first base in the years to come. But in 1972, he became the Mets main left fielder, playing in 117 games overall, hitting 17 HRs, with 12 doubles, 38 RBIs, 52 runs scored and batting .238 in 362 at bats. He always had great discipline at the plate, and that season drew 51 walks which helped him post a .340 on base %.

On May 17th 1972 Milner had a big day, hitting his first career HR, a three run shot off Montreal's Ernie McNally. He drove in five runs that day in a 12-2 Mets win over the Expos at Shea Stadium. 

In the first week of June, Milner hit three HRs with four RBIs &collected eight hits, raising his average above .300. He hit six HRs in the month of June, then slumped through July but recovered with a strong August when he hit five more HRs.

At the end of the month he hit three HRs in a four game stretch, on a road trip to Atlanta & Cincinnati. On September 8th, he hit HRs in both ends of a double header against the St. Louis Cardinals, in a twin bill split at Shea Stadium. Two days later he hit another HR, in the same series. This one off the Cards Rick Wise which turned out to be the winning run in the 3-2 Met win. Milner finished the week hitting his fourth HR in an eight game span. That month he became the first rookie in team history to have a five game hit streak.

On the year, his 17 HRs led the club, Milner would go on to lead the team in that category for the next two seasons as well doing it again in 1977. He finished in third-place for the 1972 Rookie of the Year Award, behind team mate Jon Matlack who won the Award, and was named to Baseball Digest's All-Star Rookie Team. With two of the top three rookies of the year, the Mets future was looking bright.

Milner would have his best season in 1973 as he helped lead the Mets to the World Series as their main slugger. He shifted from left field (29 games) while covering for an injured Cleon Jones, to first base (95 games) at the start of the ‘73 season and split time there with Ed Kranepool. 

He went hit less (0-3) on Opening Day, and then hit HRs in his next two games, both in which the Mets won by one run. On April 15th, his 1st inning two run HR off the Phillies, Jim Lonborg was the difference in a 2-1 Mets win at Veterans Stadium. Milner collected two of the Mets four hits that day. In his first seven games, Milner had three HRs with five RBIs, batting .318. At the end of April he went on a 13 of 16 game hit streak, & was hitting .327 with 5 HRs & 15 RBIs by the end of the month.

Then on April 25th he pulled a hamstring stretching for a low throw at first base in a game at the Houston Astrodome. He landed on the disabled list, eventually missing almost three weeks of play. He returned as a pinch hitter on May 15th, but the Hamstring didn’t heal, and it affected his swing. He strictly pinch hit for a week before joining the line up again as a regular again.

He hit just .228 after his return, a big drop after his great start. He got hot in mid June driving in eleven runs over a nine game stretch. On June13th, he helped Tom Seaver to a 3-2 win over San Francisco Giants ace: Tom Bradley. Milner hit a first inning RBI double & an 8th inning sac fly. Three days later, the Hammer nailed a three run HR against the Padres Mike Cauldwell, in a 10-2 Mets win over San Diego at Shea Stadium. Later that week he added a two run HR in Pittsburgh, off the Pirates Steve Blass, in 5-4 Met win.

At the end of June the Mets went on the road & Milner hit HRs in two games at Wrigley Field, with another in Montreal on July 3rd in a 3-1 Met win over the Expos. After a slow period, he went on a nine game hit streak gathering 17 hits, with three HRs & 13 RBIs to close out the month of July. 

On July 17th, he helped New York in a seven run 9th inning comeback win in Atlanta. Milner hit a two run HR off Carl Morton, making it a 7-5 game. Later in the inning Willie Mays two run single was the winning runs. The next day the Hammer came back to have a three hit, three RBI day against the Braves. This included his 14th HR, in a 12-2 Tom Seaver win.

On July 28th Milner hit a grand slam off Montreal's Mike Torrez in an 11-3 win over the Expos at Shea. Overall that month, he hit six HRs driving in twenty runs with eight multi hit games. 

In August he began the month hitting a pair of HRs in the second game of a double header sweep over the Pittsburgh Pirates, leading the Mets to a 5-2 win. On August 8th he drew a 2nd inning walk, then advanced on a wild pitch. He eventually scored the only run of the game, crossing the plate on a Jerry Grote single, as Jon Matlack beat Los Angeles' Andy Messersmith 1-0 at Dodger Stadium.

Later in the month Milner had back to back games where he had walk off RBI base hits, driving in the winning runs in two games against the Dodgers at Shea Stadium. The first was on August 21st, his bottom of the 9th single up the middle, off Dodgers ace: Don Sutton, scored Wayne Garrett with the game winner. The next night the Mets entered the 9th inning down 3-2. Felix Millan tied it up & then Milner singled him in, with a base hit to center off Pete Richert. That night an 0-6 Tug McGraw got his first win of the year & would began to turn his season around, as he would go 5-0 with 12 saves the rest of the way. He was vital to the Mets pennant run.

Overall in August, Milner hit five HRs & drove in 18 runs. As the rest of the Mets team got healthy and made their incredible 20-8 stretch run in September, Milner struggled. But the rest of the team was hot & got timely hitting. Their pitching was also incredible on their way to the NL Eastern title. Milner only hit two HRs with two doubles & six RBIs in the month of September.

On September 12th he broke a 1-1 tie in Philadelphia, with a 6th inning HR & then later gave the Mets the winning run with an 8th inning sac fly in the 3-2 win. In the final two games at Wrigley Field where the Mets clinched the NL East on the last day of the season, he had two hits, three walks, scored three runs and drove in two other runs.

In the final game, Milner hit a sac fly off Burt Hooton in the 5th inning bringing home Felix Millan with the Mets fifth run, giving Tom Seaver a 5-0 lead. They went on to a 6-4 win.

Although Milner only batted .239 on the season, he led the '73 NL Champion team with 23 HRs, driving in 72 runs (second to Rusty Staub) hitting 12 doubles, scoring 69 runs, drawing 62 walks, while posting a .329 on base %. 

He played in 129 games overall, 95 at first base posting a .989 fielding % making nine errors. He also played 29 games in left field, making four assists with two errors. After battling injuries all season, he was finally healthy for the playoffs.

Post Season: In the NLCS opener against the Cincinnati Reds Milner went 1-3 with a walk. In Game #2 he went hitless in Jon Matlacks two hit shut out win. He singled in Game #3 driving in the last run of the Mets 9-2 win. In the 5th inning he caught the throw from Bud Harrelson to complete a double play.

But as he ran to the dugout he noticed everyone running out, he turned to see Pete Rose & Harrelson fighting at second base. He did an about face & ran into the mêlée.

In the Game #5 clincher, he had one hit & drew two walks. In the 5th inning, he walked loading up the bases, then scored the Mets 5th run of the game, as he crossed the plate when Don Hahn grounder led to a force out play at second base. The Mets scored four runs in the inning, helping seal the pennant. Overall in the five game NLCS, Milner hit .250 (3-17) with five walks and an RBI.

In the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's, Milner hit .296 going 8-27, with the five walks and two RBIs. 

In Game #1 at Oakland, he drove in the Mets only run with a 4th inning base hit off Ken Holtzman, he also collected two of the seven Mets hits.

In Game #2 he had two more hits, both singles. In the 6th inning he reached on an error & broke a 3-3 tie as he scored on Bud Harrelson's base hit to right field. In the top of the 12th inning, Milner hit a ground ball to second baseman Rob Andrews, Andrews booted the ball as Tug McGraw & Willie Mays both scored- no RBIs were credited to Milner. Andrews then made a bad throw on the next play, a Jim Beauchamp grounder & it pulled Gene Tenace off the base. He was safe & Cleon Jones scored. 

These two errors led to A's owner Charlie Finley forcing Andrews to sign a waiver claiming he was injured & therefore not be able to play the rest of the series. The controversy went public & went all the way to the Commissioner's office. Andrews was cleared to play, as his team rallied around him. This was the final straw for manager Dick Williams who would resign after the Series.

In a classic Game #3 at Shea Stadium, Milner reached base four more times with a single, two walks and getting aboard on a Sal Bando error. He also just missed hitting a mammoth HR off A's pitcher; Jim Catfish Hunter, as the ball sailed foul down the left field line.

In the 2nd inning of Game #5 he singled home Cleon Jones to put the Mets up 1-0, against A’s pitcher Vida Blue. The Mets went on to win the game 2-0 as Jerry Koosman & Tug McGraw combined for the shut out. 

In the final two games he went 1-7 with a walk. Although Milner didn't pick up an extra-base hit in the post season, but had eleven singles and drew ten walks, good for a .386 on base percentage. In the World Series he hit .296 with 2 RBIs & 2 runs scored with a .406 on base %.

Milner returned to first base in 1974 playing a much better defense, posting a .994 fielding % (4th in the league). At the plate he had another hot start, driving in 15 runs in April. On April 25th after having already driven in one run earlier, he singled in the top of the 9th inning driving in two runs in the Mets, 5-3 win over the Padres in San Diego. On April 28th Milner broke a 6-6 tie in Los Angles when he drove home Ted Martinez & Cleon Jones with a double off one of the league's best relievers; Mike Marshall.

On an early May home stand Milner homered in three straight games against the San Diego Padres. On May 5th he homered in both ends of a double header, in the nightcap his walk off two run blast, helped the Mets to a 6-4 win. He found himself amongst the NL league leaders early on with five HRs & 20 RBIs. On May 25th he hit a sixth inning game winning HR off the Pirates ace Doc Ellis, leading to a 4-3 Mets win in Pittsburgh. He continued into June hitting safely in 20 of 22 games.

On June 6th in a rematch of the previous years' NLCS, Milner hit an 8th inning game winning HR off Cincinnati's Pedro Borbon, for a 4-3 Met win. On June 21st Milner hit two HRs off the Phillies Steve Carlton, leading Tom Seaver to a 3-2 win at Veterans Stadium. Milner already had 14 HRs by the All Star break & was considered one of the league's biggest sluggers.

On July 29th he hit his second HR of the week, this one was another game winner. It came in the home 8th inning off Montreal's Steve Rogers in a 4-3 win over the Expos. Milner hit two HRs in the first week of August but then did not hit another for another month. In a September 2nd double header at Wrigley Field, Milner hit a two run HR in the first game, leading the team to a 2-0 win over the Cubs in a Jon Matlack shut out. In the second game he had two more hits, driving in two runs as the Mets went on for the twin bill sweep.

On September 11th, he played every inning of the 25 inning marathon against the St. Louis Cardinals. The game lasted more than seven hours and Milner tied a record for most plate appearances in a single game with 12.

The Mets finished a disappointing fifth (71-91) that year, as Milner finished the 1974 season leading the team in HRs for the third straight year with 20. He also led the club in runs scored (70) and stolen bases (10). He had a career best 128 hits, with 19 doubles, 63 RBIs, 66 walks a .337 on base %, while batting .252.

Milner battled injuries in Spring Training of 1975, which led to a rough start. On April 29th he hit a three run HR off the Cubs Burt Hooton at Wrigley Field, driving in four runs on the day as Tom Seaver beat the Cubs 9-1. Milner finished April batting just .167. On May 11th he hit a HR & drove in two runs in a 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds. That month he drove in eight runs in 18 games. In June Milner hit just one HR with just two RBIs & saw his average fall to .209.

The injuries plagued him all season, as he only appeared in only 91 games overall. In the final two months of the year he only drove in four runs while hitting one HR. On the year he batted .191, with 7 HRs 11 doubles 29 RBIs & .302. That year for the third place 82-80 Mets, Ed Kranepool took over the regular first base duties & hit his career best .323.

At the start of the bicentennial 1976 season, Milner tore up the league batting .500 through his first fourteen games into May. He drove in 12 runs in his first thirteen games, while hitting three HRs & batting .488 through April.

On April 27th, with the Mets down 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th inning to the Atlanta Braves, Milner singled to drive in John Stearns with the tying run. He then came across to score the game winning run on Bruce Boisclair's double. He then got injured & missed two weeks of action. When he returned he continued a hit streak that lasted sixteen games. He cooled off in May but still finished the month batting .327 with back to back HR games on a home stand against the St. Louis Cardinals.

That week he drove in five runs in a three game stretch. In a four game stretch ending the month of June going into July, he drove in 12 runs. On June 26th he hit a grand slam at Wrigley Field off the Cubs Bill Bonham in a 10-2 Mets win. Five days later on July 1st, Milner hit another grand slam at Shea Stadium, off the St. Louis Cardinals Mike Wallace in a big 13-0 Jon Matlack shut out.

Although he had cooled off considerably in batting average, that grand slam was his tenth HR, as it was just the beginning of July. He also was in the middle of a 13 game hit streak lasting through July 7th. He would have two more multi RBI games that month, driving in three runs in Houston on July 7th & then three more in Montreal on July 24th.

On August 7th he hit a three run HR off Pittsburgh's Kent Tekulve, while driving in three of the four Mets runs in a 4-1 win over the Pirates at Three Rivers. On September 1st, he drove in the only run of the game in a pitcher's duel between Jerry Koosman & San Francisco's John Montefusco. His 8th inning double scored Felix Millan with the only run of the game.

That week he drove in runs in five of six games & had three straight multi-hit games. In late September he hit his third grand slam of the season, it was one of two HRs he hit on the day in a 10-3 Mets win. That day he drove in a career best six RBIs in a amatch up against the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium.

He finished the 1976 having a fine season; batting .271 with 15 HRs (second on the club to Dave Kingman's 37) reaching career highs in RBIs (78) which were also second to Kingman. Milner also led the club with 65 walks & a .362 on base percentage. He tied for the team lead with a career high 25 doubles & four triples while playing in 127 games. While playing left field (112 games) he posted a .985 fielding percentage, third best among N.L. left fielders.

On Opening Day 1977 Milner drove in the Mets firts run of the year with a double off future Met Ray Burris in a 5-3 win at Wrigley Field. It would be the last Opening Day Tom Seaver would pitch until his return in 1983. Milner hit a HR on May 12th in a 4-0 win over the Cardinals at Shea Stadium. He hit three HRs in May & hit well enough to bat .292 going into June.

On June 14th, the day before Tom Seaver was traded, Milner drove in three runs in Atlanta although the Mets lost the game 8-5. The next night, the day of the Seaver trade (the Midnight Massacre) Milner drove in three more runs, including a two run triple in the 5th inning, on the way to a 6-5 Mets win. The last place Mets came home to Shea the next night to play Houston in front of 8500 fans. Milner hit a HR in the 4-3 win then another two nights later.

On August 15th he had a two hit four RBI night in St. Louis in a 7-4 Mets win over the Cardinals. On August 27th he hit two HRs in Atlanta, as he drove in three of the four Mets runs in a 5-4 loss.

1977 would be his sixth and final season in New York, Milner batted .255, hitting 12 HRs 20 doubles 60 walks drove in 57 runs & posted a .353 on base %. At first base his defense was good enough to give him the leagues second best fielding percentage at .995%. He only made four errors there playing in 87 games, and only made one error in 22 games in the outfield.

Milner was another Met from the 1973 Pennant season that was traded away during the clubs dark age of 1977. On December 8th he was part of a big ten player, four team trade involving the Mets, Pirates, Braves and Rangers. After three months of negotiations the Mets sent Milner to the Pittsburgh Pirates & Jon Matlack to the Texas Rangers.

METS CAREER: Milner played 741 games for the New York Mets (23rd all time), 366 games at first base (8th all time). He hit 94 HRs with 338 walks (both 15th all time). He collected 586 hits with 100 doubles 12 triples & 473 strike outs.

The Atlanta Braves sent Willie Montañez to the Mets, and Texas sent Tom Grieve & Ken Henderson to New York as well. Bert Blyleven went from Texas to Pittsburgh & Al Oliver went from Pittsburgh to Texas. It seems like everyone did well in this trade except the Mets.                                          

In Pittsburgh Milner played for the Pirates’ "We Are Family" team, that won the 1979 World Series, beating the Baltimore Orioles. He played outfield, first base & became a successful pinch hitter that year. In April he drove in twelve runs playing in just 14 games, including a two HR game on April 13th. On May 9th he hit a grand slam HR against the Braves Gene Garber in Atlanta in a 17-9 Pirates win.

In July he hit five HRs from July 19th through July 27th. In that stretch he had two four RBI days where he hit three run Hrs. On August 5th he hit a pinch hit grand slam HR off former team mate Tug McGraw, during the heat of the pennant race, helping the Pirates stay in first place while beating the Philadelphia Phillies. That week he drove in runs in five straight games.

In 128 games, he had 16 HRs with 9 doubles, 4 triples 60 RBIs and a career high .276 batting average.

Post Season: He struggled in the NLCS going 0-9 playing in three games, but went 3-9 (.333) with an RBI, in the World Series being used mostly as a pinch hitter. He also drew four walks during the post season.

In 1980 his average dropped to .244 as he still hit 8 HRs with 34 RBIs in 114 games played. signed another deal with the Pirates that off season, but . during the 1981 strike shortened season, he was hitting just .237 in August & was traded to the Montreal Expos for Willie Montanez.

He helped the Expos hitting three HRs, during their pennant drive as they won the only division title in their history. That season the split up during the strike with the division winners from each half facing off in an NLDS.

Post Season: He got one hit in two pinch hit at bats in the NLDS win vs. the Philadelphia Phillies driving in a run. He was 0-1 as a pinch hitter in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1982 Milner was batting just .107 at the end of July when he was released. He was picked back up by the Pittsburgh Pirates to finish his career. On August 15th he hit another career pinch hit grand slam, this one off the Cardinals Steve Mura.

He ended his 12 season career with ten career grand slams (tied for 13th on the all time list with many players). Milner batted .249 with 138 HRs 140 doubles, 504 walks, 455 runs scored 16 triples 498 RBIs a .344 on base % & in 1215 games played.

All Time Mets Leader Board: Milner hit 94 Mets career HRs (14th on the Mets All Time list) & walked 338 times (15th on the Mets All time list) in 741 career Met games. Milner played in 336 games at first base (7th on the Mets all time list) & 283 games in left field (7th all time).

Family: His cousin Eddie Milner also played in the major leagues for nine seasons, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds.

Retirement: After his playing career, Milner was called to testify at the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985. It was there he ruined his legacy when he first claimed he had received amphetamines from Hall of Famer & New York legend, Willie Mays while with the Mets in 1973. He then claimed he received amphetamines from Hall of Famer Willie Stargell while with the Pirates, during his career there. Both Mays & Stargell denied the charges.

Milner admitted to using cocaine from 1978 - 1982. He also stated that he had purchased cocaine twice in a Three Rivers Stadium bathroom stall during the 1980 season.

Passing: In 2000, John Milner passed away after a long battle with cancer near his home in Atlanta, Georgia. He was only 50 years old.

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