Aug 20, 2020

Felix Millan: 1973 N.L. Champion Mets Second Baseman (1973-1977)

Felix Bernardo Martinez Millan was born on August 21, 1943, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. He earned the nicknamed “the Cat” for his quickness & a reference to the cartoon character Felix the Cat.

The five foot eleven, right hand hitting second baseman was first signed by the Kansas City A’s at the start of the 1964 season.

He was then chosen by the Milwaukee Braves in the first year draft, later that season. The solid hitting Millan hit .290 at A ball Daytona Beach, followed by two seasons batting over .300 at the next minor league levels. He made his MLB debut on June 2, 1966 with the newly relocated Atlanta Braves, batting .275 the rest of the season.

After the 1967 season he took over the Braves regular second baseman position from Woody Woodward. In 1968 he established himself as a regular, as he hit .289 playing in 149 games, hitting over 20 doubles for the first of four straight years.

In 1969 the steady Millan played in every regular season game becoming one of the league’s best defensive second baseman. He won his first Gold Glove, leading all N.L. second baseman in put outs (373) & assists (444) while posting the league’s second best fielding percentage (.980%).

He had 174 hits (9th in the NL), with 23 doubles, 6 HRs 57 RBIs & 11 sacrifice hits (6th in the NL) while batting .267.

All Star: That year he also made his first of his three straight All Star teams. In the Mid Summer Classic played in the Nation's Capitol, Washington D.C., Millan hit a third inning double off the Oakland A's Blue Moon Odom. The double drove in the Mets Cleon Jones & Cincinnati's Johnny Bench, putting the NL up 5-1 on their way to a 9-3 victory. He would have no official at bats in his next two All Star Games.

1969 NLCS: The Atlanta Braves won the NL West in 1969 & faced the New York Mets in the first ever NLCS. Millan batted .333 in the series, with three walks and a .467 on base percentage. The Mets swept the Braves in three games.

In 1970 he had career highs in batting with a .310 average, on base % (.352%) runs scored (100) & stolen bases (16) . He also hit 25 doubles with 5 triples 2 HRs & 37 RBIs as the Braves fell to a fifth place finish.

After hitting .289 in 1971, his average dropped to .257 in 1972 and despite winning another Gold Glove the Braves decided to trade him for some pitching to help out their staff.

On November 1st, 1972 the Mets made one their best trades of that era, acquiring Millan & pitcher George Stone in exchange for Gary Gentry & Danny Frisella. 

Mets Career: Millan would become a large piece of the 1973 Mets NL Pennant team, solidifying the middle with double play partner Bud Harrelson.

The Cat was always one of the toughest men in baseball to strike out, he would average the fewest strikeouts per at bat in the league, from 1973-1975. 

He would never strike out more than 28 times in a season while wearing a Mets uniform & in those years he averaged well over 600 at bats per season. 

Millan had a strange batting stance where he would use a small bat and choke way up on the handle in order to make contact. It almost looked as though the bottom of the bat would hit him in the stomach. Millan was just what the Mets needed in 1973, a solid #2 hitter who played every day & got on base a lot.

1973 NL Pennant Season: On Opening Day 1973 he was the first Met to cross the plate for the season when he scored on Cleon Jones two run HR against the Philadelphia Phillies. But in his first month in New York, he struggled batting just .158 through April. 

Millan went on a ten game hit streak in May, gathering thirteen hits from May 7th through May 12th before missing two weeks due to injury.

In June he had a nine game hit streak & peaked his average over .300 mid way through the month. On June 13th he hit a rare HR, helping Tom Seaver & the Mets to a 3-1 win against Tom Bradley & the San Francisco Giants.

He won the Player of the week award, for the week of June 17th, with an incredible 16 hits, & three RBIs, raising his average to .300. That week he enjoyed a four hit day against the San Diego Padres & two three hit days against the Giants. On July 10th, Millan had a walk off game winning single, driving in Willie Mays. The hit came off off Jim York, to beat the Houston Astros 2-1.

On July 14th the Mets were tied 2-2 in Cincinnati going into the 9th inning, when Jerry Grote tripled. Ted Martinez came in to pinch run & scored on a Passed ball from Don Gullet that got by Johnny Bench. Wayne Garret then singled & Millan blasted a HR, sealing the Mets 5-2 win. He had driven in a run earlier as well.

He then had an 18 game hitting streak in July leading to August; and enjoyed ten different games where he had three hits or more in the summer alone. He was batting over .300 into early August but fell off a bit from there keeping himself in the two nineties.

On August 22nd, he singled to score Cleon Jones tying up the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the 9th inning. He advanced to second base & scored the winning run on John Milner's base hit.

Pennant Stretch Run: He had a great stretch run to the NL East title, hitting safely in eight of the first ten games of September. Each of those games were multi hit games, including a four hit day on September 7th, in the second game of a twin bill in Montreal. 

Back on September 2nd, he hit one of his three HRs of the season, although the Mets took a late heart breaking loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis. 

This game involved a bench clearing brawl involving Millan & Cardinal's catcher Tim McCarver.

In a key divisional game in Pittsburgh on September 18th, Millan came to bat with two on in the top of the 9th inning & the Mets down 4-1. He tripled off Ramon Hernandez driving in two runs & then scored the go ahead run on a Ron Hodges pinch hit single. 

The win brought the Mets within 2 1/2 games of the first place Pirates. The Mets then faced the Pirates the next day & would take over first place beating Pittsburgh four of five games. Millan hit safely in all four games, drove in & scored two runs.

Mets Clinch NL East: In the final series at Wrigley Field in a rainy Chicago, the Mets needed to win two games to clinch the NL Eastern title. Millan hit safely in all three games, He went 2 for 5 scoring a run in the clincher on October 2nd, the last game of the regular season. 

In the month he had 34 hits, including 14 multiple hit games. He also drove in nine runs & scored ten runs, playing a solid defense.

He was primarily a singles hitter, gathering 155 singles in 1973, (2nd in the NL). He led the team in batting average (.290) games played (153) at bats (638) hits (185) triples (4) hit by pitches (6) & sacrifice hits (18). 

His 18 sac hits were second most in the league. He also hit 23 doubles, with three HRs 35 walks a .332 on base % & 37 RBIs. The New York sports writers voted him the “1973 Met of the Year” and he even earned some votes for the NL MVP.

1973 Post Season- NLCS: In the 1973 NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds he batted .316 (6-19) scoring five runs, drawing two walks with a .381 on base percentage.

In Game #2 at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, Millan singled in the top of the 9th off Reds pitcher (future Met) Tom Hall. He then scored the Mets second run of the game on Cleon Jones base hit. 

The Mets would go on to win the game 5-0, riding on Jon Matlack's two hit shutout, evening the series at one game each.

In Game #3 at Shea Stadium, Millan’s second inning single to right field, scored Don Hahn to give the Mets a 3 -1. Millan also walked twice in the game as the Mets beat the Reds 9-2. It was in this game Bud Harrelson & Pete Rose had their famous brawl.

In Game #4 four Reds pitchers held the Mets down just three hits, in their 12 inning 2-1 win. Millan had two of those hits & drove in the Mets only run. 

In the Game #5 clincher, in the bottom of the 1st inning, Millan started a two run rally with a single to centerfield, off the Red’s Jack Billingham. He then scored on Ed Kranepool’s two run single.

 In the 5th inning he added a sacrifice bunt advancing Wayne Garrett, in a Mets four run rally. They went on to win the game 7-2 & headed to the World Series.

1973 World Series: In the opening game of the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's, the sure handed Millan let a Bert Campaneris ground ball roll under his glove into right field. 

He anticipated a bounce that never came, pitcher Ken Holtzman scored from third base putting the A’s up 1-0. It was so shocking because Millan had only made seven errors all year.

Next, Mets pitcher Jon Matlack attempted to pick off Campaneris, but he botched the throw, allowing Campy to steal second base. He would score on Sal Bando’s base hit, in what would be the games winning run as the Mets lost the Opener 2-1 at Oakland.

In the extra inning Game #2 classic, Millan went 0-6, but hit a 10th inning fly ball to shallow left field which would have scored Bud Harrelson for the go ahead run. 

Harrelson tagged up & was called out at home plate, on a bad call from umpire Augie Donatelli.

The controversial play is legendary in Mets lore, as the usually calm manager Yogi Berra came running out of the dug out screaming in a tirade & Willie Mays, the on deck batter, stayed on his knees wondering in amazement how Donatelli missed the call.

The Series moved to New York & Millan had two hits in Game #3. After Wayne Garret led off with a HR, Millan then singled off Catfish Hunter, in the next at bat. He advanced to third on a Rusty Staub single & scored on a Hunter wild pitch.

Shockingly he made two more errors on the field, but none that caused any damage. In Game #4 he singled in the first inning off Kenny Holtzman and scored on Rusty Staub’s three run HR in the next at bat. He went hitless in the Mets 2-0 Game #5 win.

In Game #6 back at Oakland, Millan drove in the only Mets run of the game with an 8th inning single bringing them within a run. They would go on to lose the game 3-1 and move on to a Game seven where they fell short of a championship. 

Overall at the plate he only hit .188 in the series, going 6 for 32 with two extra base hits, a walk & a run scored.                                                           After the Pennant Season: In 1974 he started out well, he gathered a hit & an RBI on Opening Day in Philadelphia, although New York fell short 5-4 to the Phils. He was batting .357 by early May but struggled from there & was down to .253 by the end of June. Millan then missed over two weeks of action in July due to injuries.

In August he drove in runs in three straight games & on August 26th his 9th inning bunt single, scored Teddy Martinez with the tying run. Rusty Staub then came up with a walk off game winning single to beat the Houston Astros 5-4.

Record Breaker: In a classic 25 inning game on September 11th, Millan set a record with 12 plate appearances, in the game he had four hits with a walk & a run scored.

On the season the Mets finished a disappointing fifth place. Millan played in 136 games leading the league in sacrifice hits with 24. His average fell off to .268, with one HR, 15 doubles, 2 triples, 33 RBIs a .317 on base % & 50 runs scored. At second base he was third in put outs (374) fourth in games played (134) fifth in errors (15) posted a .979 fielding % while turning 81 double plays.

He rebounded to have a good 1975 season, becoming the first Met in history to play in all 162 regular season games. Although he started out slow, he picked things up as the summer came on. 

On June 12th in Los Angeles he helped Jon Matlack in his three hit shut out by driving in the only two runs of the game. He hit a pair of RBI doubles off Dodger ace Don Sutton. Millan then began July with five straight four hit games, including a four RBI day at Shea Stadium to beat the Chicago Cubs. 

Millan then had a 19-game hitting streak, that included ten multi hit games & two four hit games as well.

On July 21st he singled four times against the Houston Astros Bob Forsch at Shea Stadium. Each time after that, Joe Torre grounded into double plays setting an MLB record. After the game Torre joked to the press "I'd like to thank Felix Millan for making this all possible".

On July 26th he had a four hit (all singles) four RBI day at Wrigley Field, leading the Mets to a 9-8 win. In August he was back over the .300 mark & drove in ten runs in the month. He entered September with a 13 game hit streak driving in another ten runs.

In 1975 Millan set a Mets career mark leading the club with 191 hits (5th in the NL) 676 at bats (second most in the league) & 37 doubles (6th most in the N.L.). He hit .283 on the season, driving in a career high 56 runs.

He led the league in getting hit by pitches (12) finished third in the league with sac hits (17) & singles (151). He posted a .329 on base %. 

At second base he turned his Mets' career high 95 double plays, posted a .972 fielding % making a career high 23 errors (5th in the NL).

In the bicentennial 1976 year, he started out hot, hitting safely in 15 of the first 20 games, batting .346 at the end of April.

On April 20th he hit his only HR of the year, it came off the Cardinals Lynn McGlothen in an 8-0 Mets win at Busch Stadium. He had a twelve game hit streak in June, and then two ten game hit streaks in August & September respectively.

On the season he led the team with his .282 batting average, 150 hits, seven hit by pitches, and 139 games played. He hit 25 doubles, with one HR, 35 RBIs a .341 on base % & 55 runs scored while striking out only 19 times in 530 at bats. At second base he made 15 errors & posted a .979 fielding percentage.

In 1977 his season was cut short after 91 games. On August 12th in Pittsburgh, Pirates catcher Ed Ott slid hard into Millan at second base, trying to break up a double play. Millan shouted something at him and the catcher went after Millan. He grabbed him & slammed him hard into the Three Rivers Stadium Astroturf. His shoulder was seriously injured and he would miss the rest of the year.

He finished the season batting .248 the worst mark since his 1967 season with two HRs 11 doubles two triples a .294 on base % & 21 RBIs. That August 12th day day would turn out to be his last MLB game.

Retirement: After the Mets dismal 1977 season, Millan felt it was time to move on.

Japan Baseball: In 1978 he went to play in Japan, having his contract bought by the Taiyo Whales. The following year he went on to win a Best Nine Award while winning the batting title in Japan, hitting .346.

After another good 1979 season, he had a bad year in 1980 & was released. In his three years in Japan, he struck out just 52 times in 1139 at-bats.

Honors: In 1989 he played in the Senior Professional League in Florida. Back in the seventies he founded the Felix Millan Little League in lower Manhattan.

 In 1993 they won the New York State Little league Series. Millan was on hand for the anniversaries of the 1973 Mets team, as well as the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

He currently lives in Puerto Rico, appears at baseball card shows & at Mets Fantasy Camps.

In his 12 year career, Millan played in 1480 games, batting .279 with 1617 hits, 229 doubles, 38 triples, 22 HRs 403 RBIs 318 walks 700 runs scored & .posted a .322 on base %. Overall in his career he averaged a strike out every 23.9 at bats which is the 64th best ratio of all time.

At second base he played 1450 games (41st all time) with 3495 put outs (31st all time) 3846 assists (50th all time) posting a .980 fielding % turning 855 double plays.

Mets All Time List: Millan is second on the Mets all time list in games played at second base (674) just six games behind leader Wally Backman. In his five year Mets career, he is a .278 hitter, striking out only 92 times in 2677 at bats.

Jon Matlack, Felix Millan & Ron Swoboda
Millan is 17th on the All Time Mets hit list with 743 hits, sixth in hit by pitches with 36, twentieth in at bats (2677) 22nd in doubles (111) & 28th in games played (681).

IN 2013 he was on hand representing the New York Mets alumni, at the All Star Game Fan Fest.

No comments: