A baseball card mystery: Felix the Cat and the Cobra

Felix Millan will always be remembered for choking up higher on the bat than anybody of his era, or for the last 50 years for that matter. I was always amazed that Millan never poked himself in the stomach while trying to complete a swing. Yet, he never did. By choking up a good seven to eight inches and perfecting the art of situational hitting, he made himself one of the game’s better contact hitters; he never struck out more than 35 times in a season. For his career, he batted a solid .279.

In addition to being a nice complementary hitter, Millan was also a solid defensive second baseman. With soft hands and above-average range, “Felix the Cat” (a nickname that paid tribute to his quickness) did good work for the Braves and Mets during his 12-year career. He made three All-Star teams and won a pair of Gold Gloves.

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As it turned out, Millan never played a game in 1978, despite being featured on a Topps card that season. He actually played his final game on Aug. 12, 1977. That day, Pirates catcher Ed Ott slid hard into Millan at second base, upending him. Unhappy with what he considered an excessive takeout slide, Millan took a swipe at Ott, with the ball still in his hand. Ott responded by body slamming Millan into the infield dirt, severely damaging his shoulder in the process.

Millan did not play again that season. When his contract ran out at season’s end, he decided to take his wares to the Japanese Leagues. He signed a contract with the Taiyo Whales, where he would win a batting title during the final three seasons of his career.

While Ed Ott’s takedown of Millan altered his career, it is Ott’s teammate, Dave Parker, whom we see on Millan’s 1978 Topps card. Millan is attempting to finish off a double play as Parker, who was not exactly a timid base runner, makes his slide into second base. Parker was one of the game’s most physically intimidating players; at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he made mince meat out of a few middle infielders in the mid-1970s.

Unlike Ott, Parker does not appear to be close enough to Millan to knock him to the ground, but he does appear to make contact with Millan’s right knee. So while this experience won’t be as unpleasant as the play with Ott, it’s not exactly a simple play for Millan.

Here’s what we know. The game took place at Shea Stadium, an afternoon affair, and must have taken place prior to mid-August. It is likely a 1977 game, though we know that Topps did occasionally dip into previous seasons.

So when exactly did this game take place? In what inning did the play occur? And was Millan able to complete the double play, or did he have to settle for just the one out?

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Comments

  1. Carl said...

    Great job by 87 cards on this one. 

    Michael,

    On 6/30/78, Parker broke his jaw in a collission w John Stearns @ Shea.  When he came back he wore a hockey mask throughout 1978 to protect his jaw and in 1979 a football mask.  After 1979, he went back to just a regular helmet.

  2. carl said...

    The author mentions the extreme choking up that Milan did.  In a nice stroll down memory lane, NY also had Roy White on the Yanks and Rusty Staub on the Mets in the mid-70s.  No wonder I remember choking up as a kid.

  3. 87 Cards said...

    On Sunday, July 17, 1977, the Bucs played the Mets in a doubleheader in Shea.  In the opener, Parker was the first out in a pair of double plays.

    1. In the first inning, Al Oliver rolled to Lenny Randle at third who fired to Millan to retire Parker then onto to John Stearns at first to get Oliver.

    2.  In the eighth inning Bill Robinson grounded to Millan who forced the Cobra and then tossed to Ed Kranepool to finish Robinson.

    I hypothesize that the photo is of the first inning Oliver DP.  Parker is close to the bag as Millan finishes his throw as is usual on a 6-4-3 play; uniforms are reasonably clean; Millan does not appear to be in a severe pivot as he would be on a 5-3 double play.

    In the dugout, Joe Torre was finishing his sixth week as manager of the Mets.  I will forever associate Felix Millan with Joe Torre’s deadpan retort after Ken Forsch and the Astros forced Torre to ground into a record four double plays on July 21, 1975. Millan was the front out on all four double plays prompting Torre to say “I couldn’t have set a record without Millan. He ought to get an assist.”

  4. Michael Caragliano said...

    The photo definitely came from 1977; that was the first year the Pirates did all those mix-and-match uniform combinations, like Parker’s mustard yellow jersey. The only day game the Pirates played in New York in 1977 where Parker was involved on a play at second was on Sunday, July 17th, in the second game of a doubleheader. Parker was on first and erased on two double plays, one in the top of the first, the other in the top of the eighth, so it was one of those plays.

    This photo raises another question I have about Parker’s intimidation factor: when did Parker get the half-face mask put on his helmet? I’ve seen the picture of him with the bar, which, IIRC, he asked somebody from the Steelers to put on there after he broke his jaw. I remember one catcher complaining about blocking the plate when Parker came bearing down with the mask on, so if he had it on when the photo was taken, you can only imagine what went through Felix Millan’s mind.

  5. Jim said...

    I would have to agree on first inning for the reasons mentioned by 87 Cards.  It also looks like the dull sun is pretty well overhead, making it early in the game, probably.

    I went to Dressed to the Nines and looked up the Pirates uniforms and yes as I was told the other day by Bruce, there are only so many shown and not all.  I then went to the Rockies part and it shows only the pretty whites and road grays.  However, the Rockies wear uglier uniforms for most of their games.  Thank God the Hall of Fame doesn’t show these.

  6. BlftBucco said...

    I remember watching that Pirate/Mets game on TV.  It was one of the most shocking things I’d ever seen in a baseball game.

    Years ago I had the opportunity to have Ed Ott autograph this particular card.  He laughed when I handed it to him and remarked “That’s one person I haven’t received a Christmas card from lately”.

  7. GaryN said...

    Could this be a spring training game?  It doesn’t look like Shea’s fence (yellow number, high trees, windows look wrong).

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