Fans today are amazed by how far Josh Thole chokes up on the bat. He had nothing on Felix Millan. If you take a look at Millan’s 1976 card, you might think he was fooling around for the camera. But this was actually how he held the bat when he was up at the plate.
If anything, this pose does not do his batting stance justice. Millan batted with a crouch and held his left arm up, almost covering his eyes. It was as if he was a pitcher, trying to hide the ball as long as possible. Only it was his nose that enjoyed this protection.
Millan was a fan favorite. Fans naturally identify with smaller players and Millan’s listed height was 5’11. More importantly, he gave the club a solid fielder at second base. After watching Ken Boswell and his stone-like hands cover the position previously, Millan, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner with the Braves, seemed like a magician in the field.
But ask anyone who was a fan while Millan was active and the first thing they’ll mention is how he choked up on the bat. He had no power, but he hit .280 seemingly every year. His specialty was a line drive just over the infielder’s head. You kept waiting for a team to play its outfielders 20 steps behind the infielders.
In today’s game, where teams regularly employ shifts against any lefty batter with power, someone probably would have tried this. But back then they didn’t and Millan dinked and dunked his way to 1,617 hits in parts of 12 seasons in the majors.
Millan’s major league career ended after a shoulder injury suffered in a fight with burly Pirates catcher Ed Ott in 1977. Millan took offense at a take-out slide at second base by Ott and foolishly attacked him. After recovering from the shock, Ott proceeded to lift Millan off the ground and drove him into the turf at Three Rivers Stadium.
That led to the Doug Flynn era at second base, a time we’re all better off forgetting.