|First baseman / Left fielder|
December 28, 1949|
|Died: January 4, 2000
East Point, Georgia
|Batted: Left||Threw: Left|
|September 15, 1971 for the New York Mets|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 3, 1982 for the Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Runs batted in||498|
|Career highlights and awards|
John David Milner (December 28, 1949 – January 4, 2000) was an American first baseman and left fielder in Major League Baseball. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, he grew up a huge Hank Aaron fan, even appropriating his idol's nickname, "The Hammer." He was a member of the 1979 "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates team that won the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
New York Mets
Milner was drafted by the New York Mets in the fourteenth round of the 1968 Major League Baseball Draft out of South Fulton High School in East Point, Georgia, where he was All-State in baseball, football and basketball. He batted .307 with 58 home runs and 168 runs batted in over three seasons in their farm system before making his major league debut with the Mets in September 1971. He earned the job of "left-handed bat off the bench" on the opening day roster in 1972 by batting .296 with a team high three home runs during Spring training, and quickly moved into a platoon with Cleon Jones in left field. In the first game of a September 8 doubleheader with the St. Louis Cardinals, Milner became the first Mets rookie in franchise history to record a five-hit game. For the season, he batted .238 with a team high 17 home runs and 38 RBIs to finish third in National League Rookie of the Year balloting behind teammate Jon Matlack.
For 1973, Milner was moved to first base. He was leading his team with a .328 batting average, five home runs and thirteen RBIs when he suffered a hamstring injury against the Houston Astros on April 25, an injury that would plague him the rest of his career. He returned to the club in mid-May, but went into a 12-for-82 slump that saw his batting average fall to .216. He returned to form by the end of the season to lead his team with 72 RBIs and a career high 23 home runs as the Mets completed their improbable run to their second National League East crown.
The Mets pulled off the surprised victory over Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" in the 1973 National League Championship Series, but lost in seven games to the Oakland Athletics in the 1973 World Series. Milner batted .250 in the post-season with three RBIs and four runs scored. Though he was not credited with an RBI, his at-bat in the twelfth inning of game two drove in two runs for the Mets' extra innings victory.
On September 11, 1974, Milner tied a major league record by making twelve plate appearances in the Mets' 25 inning marathon with the Cardinals. That season, he led his team in home runs for the third year in a row with twenty, and also led his team with seventy runs. For his career with the Mets, Milner batted .245 with 94 home runs and 338 RBIs. On December 8, 1977, Milner was part of a bizarre four team trade that saw him land with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Milner found himself in more of a reserve role with Pittsburgh, with the 333 at-bats he logged in 1978 being his fewest outside of his injury plagued 1975 season. His finest season with the Pirates came in 1979 when he hit sixteen home runs and drove in sixty backing up Willie Stargell at first and Bill Robinson in left field. Milner was held hitless in nine at-bats in the 1979 National League Championship Series with the Cincinnati Reds, but was 3-for-9 in the World Series with an RBI and two runs scored.
He developed and refined a reputation as a reliable pinch hitter that thrived in pressure situations during his tenure with the Pirates. On August 20, 1981, he was traded to the Montreal Expos for Willie Montañez, who was also part of the four team trade on December 8, 1977 (Montañez landed with the Mets). Milner reached the post season for the third time in his career as the Expos won the second half of the strike shortened 1981 season. He was 1-for-2 in the 1981 National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies with an RBI in game four. When he was released by the Expos midway through the 1982 season, he rejoined the Pirates. He was released by the Pirates the following Spring, and retired.
A pure fastball hitter with lightning-quick wrists, Milner posted a 1.066 walk-to-strikeout ratio (504-to-473) for his career. Milner hit ten career grand slams, including three with the Mets in 1976.
On December 8, 1977, Milner was part of a mega-deal trade between the Mets, Pirates, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers. After three months of negotiations, the transaction was completed and involved eleven players:
- The Mets sent Milner to Pittsburgh.
- Atlanta sent Willie Montañez to the Mets.
- Texas sent Adrian Devine, Tommy Boggs and Eddie Miller to the Braves; sent a player to be named later and Tom Grieve to the Mets, and sent Bert Blyleven to the Pirates.
- Pittsburgh sent Al Oliver and Nelson Norman to the Rangers.
- The Mets sent Jon Matlack to the Rangers.
- To complete the trade, Texas sent Ken Henderson to the Mets on March 15, 1978.
Pittsburgh drug trials
After his playing career, Milner was called to testify at the cocaine distribution trial of Curtis Strong. He stated during his testimony that he used cocaine from 1978 through 1984, and that he bought two grams of cocaine for $200 in the bathroom stalls at Three Rivers Stadium during a June 13, 1980 Pirates-Astros game, and on September 30, 1981. He also claimed to have used a liquid form of amphetamines called "red juice" he acquired from Willie Mays while both played with the Mets, and that "greenies" (also an amphetamine) were often anonymously placed in his locker while he played with the Pirates. Dale Berra and Dave Parker both attributed the greenies to Willie Stargell, however, both he and Mays denied the claims made against them. Berra also claimed to have shared cocaine with Milner, Parker, Lee Lacy, Lee Mazzilli and Rod Scurry while all were members of the Pirates.
- Fred Girard (April 1, 1972). "One to Watch: The Hammer". St. Petersburg Times.
- "New York Mets 8, St. Louis Cardinals 2". Baseball-Reference.com. September 8, 1972.
- "Milner Suffers Leg Injury". Observer-Reporter. April 27, 1973.
- "1973 World Series, Game Two". Baseball-Reference.com. October 14, 1973.
- "St. Louis Cardinals 4, New York Mets 3". Baseball-Reference.com. September 11, 1974.
- "1981 National League Division Series, Game Four". Baseball-Reference.com. October 10, 1981.
- Richard Lacayo & Joseph N. Boyce (Sep 23, 1985). "Sport: The Cocaine Agonies Continue". Time Magazine.
- Richard Goldstein (January 7, 2000). "John Milner, 50, Slugger for Mets & Pirates". New York Times.
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors), or BaseballLibrary