17 DUPACR: Guess Who?

There are 17 Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report to spring training at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Florida. So today I honor a former player who wore New York Mets uniform number 17.

But which #17 do I bestow this honor?

I’ll give you a few hints:

– he was an infielder
– he was known for his outstanding defense on the right side of the infield
– he wore a distinctive, memorable mustache
– he was a great contact hitter who rarely struck out
– he was more of a line-drive / singles hitter than a homerun threat
– he led the Mets in hits in multiple seasons
– he played with plenty of passion, and had a fiery temper
– he was of Latin descent

Can you guess what #17 I’m honoring today?

Felix Millan, of course !

Why, who were you thinking?

Oh, right, Keith Hernandez fits all of those characteristics … and was a much better all-around ballplayer. Keith also was one of the key players to turn around the franchise in the early 1980s and the unofficial captain of the ’86 World Series team. But, I had to choose Felix Millan, because I remember him so vividly for his scrappy play, bunting ability, and, of course, the fact that he choked up so high on the bat.

“Choking up” is something you don’t see very often in MLB these days — if at all. It’s so rare that there are times during my baseball lessons that I suggest to a teenager “hey, try choking up a few inches” and he looks at me like a deer in headlights, because he has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. For those who don’t know, “choking up” is taking a batting grip with your hands a few inches above the knob of the bat (rather than holding the bat at the very end, with your bottom hand touching the knob). One would “choke up” in order to gain a little more control of the lumber — it’s all about leverage, and the concept of lever / fulcrum. In my generation, every kid was taught to “choke up” if the bat felt too heavy or too long; we were also taught to “choke up” when there were two strikes (or if the pitcher threw serious heat) to give yourself more bat control and maybe a hint more bat speed. The first time I was taught to choke up, the coach said, “just like Felix Millan does” and instantly I knew what he was talking about; Millan literally choked up almost to the trademark of the bat, which was a little ridiculous but it worked for him. To this day, whenever I hear someone say “choke up”, an image of Millan appears in my head — and probably will to my dying day.

It’s probably a dumb reason to honor him with the 17th Day Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, but as mentioned previously, this countdown has nothing to do with logic or the “best” players who wore Mets uniforms.

Some other Mets considered for this day — in addition to Millan and Keith Hernandez — included David Cone, Choo-Choo Coleman, Rod Gaspar, Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, Ellis Valentine, Bret Saberhagen, Mike Bordick, Kevin Appier, Dae-Sung Koo, and Jose Lima.

Which #17 do you choose to represent this day, and why? Post your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#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. argonbunnies January 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm
    All Keith did in a Mets uniform was turn the team around and win a World Series. Plenty of players have done that for their teams. I don’t know if anyone’s ever topped Koo’s trip around the bases on his final day as a Met. (Although I had no idea what his uniform number was.)

    I do remember Lima was #17, but only because that fact clearly irked Keith.

    As for Koo, it’s like some comedy show writers were brainstorming an experiment in absurdity:

    “Let’s take a lefty-hitting pitcher with no experience hitting. A reliever. An A.L. lifer… no, wait, Japan! Yeah. Okay, now let’s match him up against the toughest pitcher in history for lefties to hit, and the guy most likely to scare the crap out of a lefty batter. Definitely Randy Johnson. Okay, what if our guy hit a homer? Ha ha!

    “No, wait, that’d be over too quick. Let’s make him run the bases, but with some sort of impediment. Maybe a leg injury. Better: a weighted ball in his pocket! Yeah, no one will believe this, but let’s keep going.

    “So, our lefty Japanese reliever just misses a homer off Johnson, cruises into second with a double, puts on the pitcher’s jacket with the weighted ball. Now he needs to do something crazy, like scoring from second on a sac fly. No, wait, a bunt! Ha ha! Let’s have the Mets bunt the pitcher to 3rd, and then he scores on some ridiculous play.

    “No, not a throwing error; too mundane. How about a brain cramp by a player who’s been a big postseason winner? This has to be against the Yankees, obviously. Let’s say Posada runs after the bunt and is late getting back to cover home! But let’s make it a close play, so Koo does some awkward-ass slide. Maybe he’s even out, but the ump calls him safe! Ha ha!

    “Man, if that happened, our reliever would have to quit right there. He’s reached the pinnacle. Maybe he could hurt his pitching arm sliding in or something!”

    And then it happened.

    • Joe Janish January 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm
      Ha! Mr. Koo’s mad dash around the bases was unforgettable. Good stuff, love the Hollywood script angle. Thanks !
  2. argonbunnies January 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm
    Correction: I said “Japan” because I know they have the DH there. Koo himself was actually Korean, and I don’t know what the Korean DH rule is.

    I also said “Koo” once, near the end of the brainstorm, instead of the hypothetical “some reliever”. Oops. Please substitute it in your head; it’s funnier that way.

  3. Rob January 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm
    Joe: My grandfather used to regale about Millan letting that ball go through his legs during the 1973 WS with Oakland. In his opinion, has he fielded that ball, it would have been a different result for the Mets in the Series. Anyway, I remember his fielding and his choking up. He was one of my favorites during that period. Thanks for the memories.

    All the best,

  4. Mark January 30, 2011 at 10:28 am
    Like so many Met fans of my generation, I grew up a huge Keith Hernandez fan. We had all spent so many years getting (justifiably) mocked by Yankee fans and then Mex showed up and a team loaded with young talent became legit. I loved watching Keith play – the intensity and intelligence were remarkable, particularly for fans like me who had grown accustomed to watching bad baseball.

    And I have to admit it: whether or not they chose to retire his number, I really don’t enjoy seeing any other Mets wearing # 17.

    As always Joe, great work. I look forward to seeing your remaining choices.

  5. Ken January 31, 2011 at 9:29 am
    I like the choice of Millan. I’m old enough that he was the second baseman when I was learning to play baseball. I would imitate my favorite player, Bud Harrelson, and I couldn’t hit at all.

    I then immitated Millan, brought my front (left) elbow up in front of my face, and I made contact everytime. Little dinkers over the second baseman’s head. His stance/swing even works in wiffle ball.

    That said, I really didn’t learn to hit until I moved to Rhode Island for college and started imitating the swing of Fred Lynn. But Millan was one of my favority players because just by watching him you could learn how to make contact.

  6. Frank February 3, 2011 at 11:24 am
    I still think Ed Ott should be imprisoned for what he did to The Cat.
  7. Mike February 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm
    One of my favorite Mets growing up. Like you, Joe, I always think of Millan when some one mentions choking up on the bat. GREAT choice!