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: