On This Date: August 12, 1977
The Pittsburgh Pirates were perennial contenders in 1977 with sluggers such as Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, and still in possession of a young hurler named Goose Gossage. Two years later, in 1979, after three consecutive seasons of the Phillies coming in first place, Bert Blyleven and the Bucs finally made their way passed Philadelphia in the N.L. East, and went on to become World Champions for the second time in the decade.
By August 12, 1977, former Mets manager Joe Frazier had long been fired. Forty-five games into the 1977 season, Joe Torre was handed the reigns of the team as a player/manager. Before long, Joe Torre took his last at-bat as an active player when he called upon himself to pinch hit. He then officially retired in June to devote himself towards being full time manager of the Mets.
But unfortunately for Joe Torre, by this time, the Mets had already quite obviously initiated the deconstruction of the previous era’s two time National League Champs, and the then current assemblage of players, in earnest. The Midnight Massacre had already taken place. That moniker signifies the night the Mets traded Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman. Those two trades effectively ushered in what would soon be, the darkest days at Shea Stadium. Coinciding with the Pirates championship season, within another two seasons of the Midnight Massacre, all remnants of the 1969, and 1973 Mets were gone from the team. Once Ed Kranepool retired in 1979, that was that.
On August 12, 1977, however, one member of the Mets had his playing career in Flushing taken away from him; or should I say slammed down; but not by the Met organization’s doing. No, instead and quite painfully, the career of Felix Millan in a Mets uniform came to an end in a physically violent manner, suffered at the hands of an opposing player.
Ed Ott was a pugnacious little 5’10” catcher for the Pirates then. He was also a former college football player practiced at lifting weights and other heavy things… in their various forms. On this day, the Mets were in Pittsburgh for a scheduled double-header; if you can imagine such a thing today. The day was already long and hot. The Mets dropped game one. In game two, after Ott received an intentional walk from Mets’ pitcher Bob Apodaca, Mario Mendoza stepped in and grounded into what should have been a classic 6-4-3 double play. But what the ground ball triggered was one of the more uglier incidents in Mets’ history.
Ed Ott went into second base hard, in an effort to take out Felix Millan covering, and receiving a throw from freshly acquired Doug Flynn playing shortstop. Players were still expected to take out the pivot guy to prevent a double-play back then. If you didn’t, menacing glares would greet that player in the dugout. But Felix Millan thought perhaps Ed Ott came in a little too hard. So Felix sized him up, and threw a right hook with the baseball still clenched in his hand. Needless to say, Ed Ott took exception with Millan’s gesture, proceeded to scoop him up, then body-slammed Felix to the ground WWE style.
The Mets second baseman was taken off the field on a stretcher, and Ed Ott was ejected from the game. Ott’s career continued. However, Felix Millan’s Met career did not. The results of being slammed to the ground were a combination of a broken collar bone, a broken clavicle, or both, or the same; or not. Lets just say his shoulder was crushed and almost everything in it got busted.
That ended Felix Millan’s MLB career. He still stands today as one of the best acquisitions the organization ever made. He came to the Mets via the Braves in exchange for Gary Gentry in time for the 1973 season. His unique style of choking up on the bat remains an iconic snapshot in Mets history. And “The Cat” could flat out hit too. He was a perfect number two batter for the Mets. In 2,677 at-bats, he only struck out 92 times, while collecting 743 hits as a .278 batter for the Mets. In 1975, he set the then club record for hits in a season with 191, while playing in all 162 games; which also set a Mets record, in addition to being tops in the National League that year.
While his Major League career was over, Felix Millan continued to play a few more years overseas starting in 1978 with the Taiko Whalers of the Japanese Central League. In 325 games, he compiled a .306 batting average. Then after the 1980 season, he finally called it a career.
As a young Mets fan in the 1970’s, Felix “The Cat” Millan was one of my favorite players. I spent many hot summer afternoons playing stick ball on my block, imitating his batting style, as did many Mets fans back then.
I failed to mention how slick in the field he was as well. For he was indeed as smooth as the best second-sackers of his day. It is my recollection he, and Buddy Harrelson, formed a formidable double-play combination. And by the way, this wasn’t the first time Felix Millan ever took a swipe at someone for sliding hard into second base. When he found it necessary, The Cat pounced.
All hail Felix Millan! – one of the best second basemen this organization ever had; or ever will for that matter.