Tuesday, April 5, 2011
#149) JOHN MILNER
John Milner was selected in the 14th round of the 1968 free agent draft. The 19-year-old had been an all-state high school athlete in baseball, football, and basketball in Georgia. Growing up in Atlanta, John was a big fan of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and was given his nickname, "The Hammer" because of it.
Milner worked his way through the Mets farm system, and earned a late season call-up when rosters expanded in 1971. He made his major-league debut at Shea Stadium on September 15, 1971. John appeared as a pinch-hitter during New York's 6-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
The left-handed hitter proved to be the team's best slugger the next year. Milner led the Mets in home runs during his first full season, and became the first Mets' rookie to record five hits in a single game. That performance coming at Shea facing the St. Louis Cardinals on September 8, 1972. John became the regular New York left fielder and finshed third in voting for the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year Award. The honor was given to teammate, Jon Matlack.
The Hammer also led the Mets team in home runs during the 1973 and 1974 seasons. He was a big part of the club's advance to the World Series in 1973. John enjoyed his best overall year in New York with 23 home runs, 72 RBIs, and a .239 batting average. Milner also found a new position as a first baseman. He would hit .296 for the National League Champions during the seven game loss to the Oakland A's during the Fall Classic.
Milner was known for fearlessly standing over the plate when he hit. "He crowded the plate so much, he'd fall to the other side when he swung the bat." remembered Cardinals ace, Bob Gibson. In 1976, John became the first Mets player to hit three grand-slam home runs during a single season. Unfortunately hamstring problems limited his effectiveness over much of his later time in New York. The Hammer was traded along with Jon Matlack in a four-team, 11-player deal that found Milner joining the Pittsburgh Pirates on December 8, 1977.
Right after joining the Pirates, John hit a grand-slam homer to defeat the Mets in 12 innings, but professed no special satisfaction. "I had six good years in New York, so I'm not bitter," he said. "The Mets are rebuilding—that's all right."
The Hammer won a World Championship with Pittsburgh in 1979. He retired from baseball in 1982. A long-time smoker, John Milner lost his battle with lung cancer, and passed away on January 4, 2000 in Atlanta. He was only 50 years old.
I created John Milner's card in the set from an autographed index card given to me by my friend, Jessie on October 16, 2010.