The story of Eddie Milner illustrates the dangers of drug abuse better than anything that was produced by the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign in the 1980’s
Born on May 21, 1955, in Columbus, Ohio, Eddie Milner was the son of Eddie James Milner Sr. and Evangeline Milner. Though relatively small (he claimed to be 5’11, though other records show him to be 5’10), Eddie showed great speed and agility when it came to a number of sports. His high school football career caught the attention of Ohio University, and he was a good enough wrestler that he was offered a scholarship to the University of Iowa. However, Milner turned down both opportunities and accepted an offer to play at the Division III level with Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio instead. Unfortunately, Milner never played an inning of ball there after he injured his back while lifting weights. He left Muskingum College and returned to Columbus where he began working in a steel mill.
He didn’t give up on playing baseball, however, and by playing in a summer league he eventually attracted the attention of the coaching staff at Central State University, who offered him a scholarship that Milner quickly accepted. After playing there for 2 years, Milner was invited to a clinic where he would be able to be seen by professional scouts. It paid off as Milner was eventually drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 21st round of the 1976 amateur draft.
Over the next four years Milner worked himself up from Billings to Tampa to Double-A Nashville and Triple-A Indianapolis. After hitting .287, stealing 43 bases, and leading Indianapolis with six triples, Milner received a late-season call-up to the Reds. He got his first big-league hit on September 25, a run-scoring double off of Atlanta reliever Steve Bedrosian.
“I rounded second and tripped,” Milner said about his first hit. “The guys were really laughing at that. [Reds manager] John McNamara asked me if I could still play defense because I was slightly shaken up after falling. I was happy that nobody hit me the ball the rest of the game.”
Milner earned his way into the starting lineup for the 1982 season, hitting .268 in 113 games. He played in a career-high 146 games in 1983, hitting .261 with nine homers and 33 runs batted in. Milner stole a career-best 46 bases that year. It was in the following season that his career began to crumble. Milner’s cocaine use grew from recreational to daily. In 1984, upset by his increasing lack of playing time, the death of his mother, and injuries (including his reoccurring back pain), Milner’s cocaine use got out of control.
His batting average dropped to .232 in 1984, and he stole 21 bases in 34 attempts. He bounced back to hit .254 with 35 steals and a career-best 82 runs scored in 1985.
Though he seemed to be doing better on the field, Milner’s drug use only got worse after he was traded to San Francisco. It was during the 1987 season that Milner entered a drug-abuse treatment program for the first time. After hitting .252 in 101 games for the division-winning Giants, Milner was granted free agency after the season.
He got back on with the Reds in 1988 but quickly relapsed in March and was suspended for a year. Milner was reinstated after completing another rehabilitation program. He spent time with Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Nashville in 1988 before playing 23 games and batting just .176 for the Reds. He retired after the season, finishing with a .252 batting average, 42 homers, and 195 RBIs, along with 145 stolen bases, in 804 games.
“His problems might have cost Eddie about $10 million,” said Reds special assistant Gene Bennett. “He was Deion [Sanders] before Deion. He was that good.”
Milner has worked a series of odd jobs since his playing days, including a stint with the postgame cleaning crew at Cincinnati’s Cinergy Field in 1996.
“I lost my wife, my job in a game I really love. I lost just about everything,” he said. “I was even homeless a few times.”
In 1997 Milner became an ordained evangelist, and he began using his battles with drugs to minister to those who were having the same types of issues. He says he tries to use his past to help others have a better future.
Milner says, “I tell them not to forget the past, to remember it so we can make better decisions in the future. I still attend NA and AA meetings. I try to stick around baseball. I do some construction jobs. It’s all part of my recovery that I put into God’s hands.”