Sunday, October 27, 2013

Phil Niekro (#257)

Phil Niekro was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958. Phil played 4 seasons in the minors (1959-62), as a reliever, then missed the 1963 season while in military service. He made the Braves’ team to begin the 1964 season, but after 10 relief appearances, he was sent down to triple-A Denver in mid-May for the remainder of the season. During that time, he became primarily a starting pitcher.

Niekro returned to the Braves for all of 1965, although he was back in the bullpen for all but 1 of his 41 games. In 1966, Phil appeared in 28 games (all in relief), but spent all of June and July in the minors.

"Knucksie" started the 1967 season in the bullpen, but joined the starting rotation on June 13th, where he would remain for the next 16 seasons. Niekro led the NL with a 1.87 ERA in 1967, and would win in double figures for the next 20 seasons (except the strike-shortened 1981 season). He led the NL in strikeouts in 1977 (262), and wins in 1974 (20) and 1979 (21). He also won 23 games in 1969.

After compiling a record of 11-10 in 201 innings in 1983, the Braves released Niekro. He was quickly signed by the Yankees, winning 16 games in each of his 2 seasons with New York. Phil was released by the Yankees during spring training in 1986, but played for the Indians for the next year and a half. Niekro was traded to the Blue Jays in August 1987, then was released at month’s end. He re-signed with the Braves for the final week of the season, then retired.

Phil pitched in 864 games during his 24-year career. His 318 career wins are the most by a knuckleball pitcher. (As kids, he and his brother Joe learned to throw a knuckleball pitch from their father.)

Niekro was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1997. His #35 (which he wore for his entire career) was retired by the Braves in 1984, 3 seasons before his retirement.

Among his other post-retirement activities, he coached a women’s professional baseball team.

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