The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #39 John Milner

John "The Hammer" Milner was selected by the Mets in the 14th round (#301 overall) of the 1968 draft out of South Fulton High School in East Point, Georgia. He reported to Marion of the Appalachian League where he hit .321 and slugged .419 as an eighteen-year-old. He was promoted to High-A Visalia to begin the 1969 season and was dominating, batting .326 and slugging .511 before earning a late-season promotion to Pompano Beach, where he continued to destroy High-A pitching.
Year  Team         Lg   Age  Lvl   AB  XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG
-----------------------------------------------------------
1968  Marion       App   18  Rk   234   20  --  321/---/419
1969  Visalia      Calif 19  A+   393   39  --  326/---/511
1969  Pom. Beach   FSL   19  A+    65    8  --  354/---/600
1970  Memphis      Tex   20  AA   461   47  --  297/---/503
1971  Tidewater    IL    21  AAA  497   51  --  290/---/479
Milner spent one season apiece at Double-A Memphis and Triple-A Tidewater, hitting for solid average and power at both stops, before getting called up to the Mets for a cup of coffee at the end of the 1971 season. He made his big league debut on September 15, 1971, grounding out as a pinch hitter in a 6-2 loss to the Cubs. He appeared in nine games over the final two weeks of the season, collecting two hits in eighteen at-bats, mostly as a pinch hitter.

Milner reported to spring training with the Mets in 1972 and was named "rookie of the spring" after hitting .296 with three homeruns and 11 RBI. He began the season in a part-time role and was booed mercilessly by the Shea faithful each time he appeared as a pinch hitter in lieu of Willie Mays. Milner took over in left field on a fairly-regular basis in the middle of May and finished the season batting .238/.340/.423. The average wasn't great, but he showed good discipline at the plate and whacked 17 homeruns en route to a third-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting (teammate John Matlack won the award).

Year  Age   PA  XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG   EQA  WARP3   VORP
--------------------------------------------------------
1971   21   18    1   0  167/167/222  .105    0.1   -1.9
1972   22  423   31  51  238/340/423  .287    3.8   10.6
1973   23  519   38  62  239/329/432  .279    2.7   12.7
1974   24  576   39  66  252/337/408  .279    4.9   19.0
1975   25  255   18  33  191/302/336  .243    1.2   -5.1
1976   26  511   44  65  271/362/447  .298    5.4   21.9
1977   27  453   35  61  255/353/415  .282    4.1   13.4
Milner shifted from left field to first base to start the 1973 season and wound up splitting time between the two positions with Ed Kranepool. He was hitting .327/.453/.635 on April 26 when he pulled his right hamstring stretching for a low throw. He landed on the disabled list three days later and would eventually miss 16 games before returning as a pinch hitter on May 15. He performed pinch hitting duties for his first four games back before returning to the starting lineup. Hamstring injuries have a way of lingering, and Milner hit just .228/.312/.406 after his return, a tremendous dropoff from his torrid start. He ultimately played in 129 games that season, clubbing 23 homeruns and drawing 62 walks.

The Mets went all the way to the World Series in 1973, and Milner certainly played a part in their amazin' run. He didn't pick up a single extra-base hit in the NLCS against the Reds or in the World Series against the Athletics, but he collected eleven singles and drew ten walks to bat .250 and post an on-base percentage of .389.

Milner returned to first base in 1974 and spent the whole season there, clubbing 20 homeruns and showing good patience at the plate. The Mets followed up their World Series run by losing 90 games in 1974, including a ">4-3 loss to the Cardinals on September 11 that lasted more than seven hours and in which Milner -- and eight other ballplayers -- played all 25 innings.

Milner got off to a rough start in 1975, finishing April hitting just .167/.333/.278. He had battled shin splints and a bruised right hand during spring training and spent the majority of the season just trying to find his groove. He appeared in only 91 games that year, batting a paltry .191/.302/.336, and relinquishing regular outfield duties to Rusty Staub, Del Unser and Dave Kingman, while Mets Kranepool took the majority of the starts at first base. It was a season Milner would just as soon forget, and he did just that at the start of the 1976 season, hitting .500/.589/.795 through his first fourteen games.

Milner's season hit a bump at the end of April when he pulled a thigh muscle that would cost him twelve games. He went on to have the best season of his career, though he hit just .248/.336/.413 after returning from the injury. He returned in 1977 for his sixth -- and final -- season with the Mets, hitting .255/.353/.415 for yet another lousy Mets team. Following the season, Milner was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a four team, eleven player trade that also involved the Rangers and the Braves that netted the Mets outfielders Willie Montanez and Tom Grieve (father of future big leaguer Ben Grieve) and Ken Henderson. The deal also cost the Mets Matlack, who would have his best season as a pro the following year in Texas.

Tragically, Milner died of cancer in 2000 near his home in Atlanta, GA, at the far-too-young age of 50. He led the Mets in homeruns during his first three full seasons, and led the team in OPS in 1976 with a mark of .809, 36% better than the league. He had some pop in his bat and he knew how to take a walk, and he was a fine hitter in five of his six seasons at Shea.

Sources

John Milner at Baseball-Reference.com
John Milner at Baseball Prospectus
John Milner at The Baseball Cube

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