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Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders, #15: John Milner

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In which the author learns a thing or two about a player in an oft-overlooked period in Mets history.

John Milner (credit: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports)

15. John Milner

Home runs as a Met: 94
Home run rate: 1 per 29.3 Plate Appearances (3.4%)

Let me get this out of the way: Of all the players in this series, I am least familiar with John Milner. Before doing research for this article, I couldn’t have told you what position he played (left field and first base) or when he played for the Mets (1971-1977); I only knew that Milner was before my time or memory, and I wasn’t sure which. It came as a surprise, then, to find that Milner was among the Mets’ all-time home run leaders—let alone in the top 15.

I haven’t drawn attention in my previous articles to players’ “home run rates” (see above), but I include them because they indicate something about the type of home run hitter the player was or is. For instance, Barry Bonds, who hit more home runs than anyone in MLB history, hit one home run every 16.5 plate appearances for his career; put another way, he homered in 6 percent of his plate appearances.

Bonds is an extreme outlier, of course, and is mentioned here only to help readers calibrate their perceptions. Sliding the scale back a bit from “otherworldly” to “very good” where home run hitting is concerned, we come to players like Yoenis Cespedes, who has homered at about a 4.6 percent clip for his career (6.1% while with the Mets!). John Milner, with his 3.4% rate as a Met, is in the very respectable neighborhood of fellow top-25ers Gary Carter (3.6) and Tommie Agee (3.1), and well ahead of players like Rusty Staub (2.5) or Jose Reyes (1.7).

So what gives? I’m not a Cohen-esque or a Rose-like encyclopedia of Mets history, but I’m not exactly a newbie, either. Why, then, am I so thoroughly unfamiliar with John Milner, New York Met—especially considering that he hit a fair number of home runs at a decent rate and, on further examination, was a pretty good overall hitter?

There’s a few things, I think. First, Milner played for the Mets in the early-to-late-middle 70s, which is probably one of the most unremarkable periods in Mets’ history, notwithstanding the unlikely trip to the 1973 World Series. On the whole, the Mets were thoroughly mediocre during those years—except for Milner’s last season with the team, 1977, which is when the franchise began its seven-years-long journey through cellar-dwelling crapulence. Lucky for Milner, he was traded to the Pirates and went on to enjoy a World Series championship with them in 1979.

Another thing about John Milner is that his skill set as a hitter probably didn’t jive well with the milieu. In short, Milner was an on-base guy with a bit of power and a low-to-middling batting average—a narrative hurdle for some fans even today, let alone in earlier eras.

In fact, Milner’s OPS+ reveals he was a solidly above-average hitter for the Mets; but it’s easy to imagine that fans processed his seasons with a shrug and a “meh,” if not outright dismissal. It probably didn’t help, either, that Milner had a balky hamstring that caused him to miss some playing time each year—a crime for which the grission police apply swift justice.

John Milner never made the All-Star Game or won a major award—though he did place third in Rookie of the Year voting in 1972—but he had a solid career that hinted at a pretty fair amount of talent. One wonders what Milner would have been able to achieve had he enjoyed better health as a player. We’ll never know, although he did well enough to make this list pretty easily.

John Milner (with the Mets)

Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
1971 9 18 0 11
1972 117 423 17 119
1973 129 519 23 112
1974 137 576 20 109
1975 91 255 7 81
1976 127 511 15 137
1977 131 453 12 111