28 DUPACR: The Hammer

The book that inspired this series — Mets By the Numbers — also chose John “The Hammer” Milner as the player of focus for #28. But I have to admit, it was a tough decision.

In comparison to other numbers, #28 was not worn by very many players — partly because coach Bill Robinson hogged it for a five-year period. But it was worn by several of my personal favorites; you have to understand, though, that I’m a weird guy and like/liked players for sometimes weird reasons.

For example, there is Mike Marshall (the pitcher, not the goon first baseman / outfielder), who pitched his last 20 MLB games as a Met in 1981. His 1982 Fleer baseball card picturing him in the Mets uniform was something of a rarity; since he was not a member of the MLBPA, there wasn’t a Topps card of him for several years before then (Topps’ contract was with the MLBPA, so they didn’t produce a card for the few non-members). Dr. Mike Marshall was probably the first MLBer to study kinesiology, and among the first to apply the concepts of kinesiology and elementary motor skills to pitching mechanics. He, and his results, are widely poo-poohed and he’s considered something of a flake … not to mention, he usually comes off as an a-hole in interviews. Still, have to love his non-conformist, out-of-the-box thinking, even if it is a bit nutty.

Other #28s that strike my fancy include Sherman “Roadblock” Jones (one of the greatest nicknames in baseball history), Juan “Goggles” Padilla, Scott Strickland (for whom I had an unhealthy man-crush), and Bobby J. Jones (not to be confused with Bobby M. Jones).

But in the end, it is John Milner who, to me, most associates with Mets uniform number 28. How can you go wrong with an Atlanta native whose nickname was “The Hammer” — and named so at the same time the “real” “Hammer” (Hank Aaron) was still playing? That’s one of the elements of baseball that have sadly left us — the nickname. No one has nicknames anymore; back in the day, nearly everyone had one.

Milner was a lean and strapping slugger in the days when hitting 17 homers in a season was “slugging”. He had the meanest, coolest, thickest sideburns seen on a ballplayer before Eddie Murray arrived in Baltimore. Milner was the closest thing the Mets had to a home-grown star — until Lee Mazzilli came along to be the closest thing they had to a home-grown star — and showed flashes of fulfilling stardom with his quick wrists and plate discipline. He drew his walks and didn’t strike out frequently for a “homerun hitter”, but that combination never resulted in a very high batting average; .271 was the best he could do in the orange and blue. Prior to the 1978 season, he was dealt to the Pirates in the wacky 4-team deal that also sent away Jon Matlack and brought back Willie Montanez (ironically, Milner was traded four years later by the Bucs to the Expos in return for Montanez). After he left Flushing, I secretly rooted for Milner and his Pirates to paste the Orioles in the ’79 World Series, and renounced my fandom during the Pittsburgh Drug Trials.

Milner passed away in 2000 from lung cancer, a sad ending to the life of one who created fond memories for many a Mets fan in the 1970s.

The countdown thus far:

#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd


Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Rob January 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm
    Joe: When I was a kid, I absolutely loved John Milner. Not sure that I remember why, other than that he hit home runs, had a great lefty swing and had those cool sideburns. He was probably an integral part of the 73 team that went to the WS, but he was also one of the few bright spots when the Mets fell into obscurity during those lean years leading up to 1977, when he was traded. I had no idea that he passed away at the turn of the century. How sad. I wonder what other Mets players have died without my knowing it. That would NOT be a good article to do, but it is an interesting question.

    Great post! Thanks and keep up the great work.

    All the best,

    • Joe Janish January 19, 2011 at 12:35 am
      Rob, I could have written the exact same comment. To this day I’m not sure why Milner was one of my favorite Mets back then, but I think it had something to do with the homeruns and the sideburns as well.

      Thanks for the kind words.