THE SAUGUS ADVOCATE – FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 2021 Page 5 Knucksie P By The Old Sachem, Bill Stewart hil Niekro was a very talented side-arm pitcher signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 for $250. He travelled throughout the minor leagues, mostly as a relief pitcher. In 1960 he was assigned to the Louisville Colonels in triple A and eventually was sent down to the Jacksonville Braves in double A. His next season was with the Austin Senators in double A, and he returned to Louisville in 1962, where he had a 9 and 6 record for the Colonels. He was in the service during the war and missed the 1963 season. Philip Henry Niekro was born on April 1, 1939, and his knuckleball surely became an “April Fooler” to batters. Born in Blaine, Ohio, he grew up in Lansing, Ohio, the son of a Polish couple, Henrietta (Klinkoski) and Philip Niekro. He graduated from Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio, and among his friends was John Havlicek, who went on to play for the Celtics. His brother, Joe, was also a big-league pitcher. They grew up as sons of a coal miner who pitched in amateur baseball and developed a knuckleball, which he taught to his sons. During his high school Saugus Democratic Committee elects new officers T he Saugus Town Democratic Committee elected a new slate of officers at the November 29 virtual meeting. Elected to office is: Chairman Joseph Malone, Vice Chairwoman Karen Rakinic, Treasurer Mary Kinsell, Secretary Hilary Matthews and Outreach Officer Mary Robblee. The two-year term is dedicated to supporting Democrats for election to public office in Massachusetts as well as nationally. The next committee meeting will be on January 31 at 7 p.m. Please come join us virtually! If you are interested in learning about the Town Committee and its mission or would like to join, please contact us at the following email address saugusdtc@ gmail.com. seasons, he pitched not only for the high school, but also for the local American Legion team. In 1964 the Braves brought him up to the majors, and he pitched for the Braves in Milwaukee, then in Atlanta and pitched for the team for 20 seasons. He was up and down that first year, but in 1965 he became a regular, amassing 74 2/3 innings in 41 games with six saves. In 1966 he was up and down again, pitching in the minors and then in the majors. His 1967 season gained him full time in the majors, and he led the league with an ERA of 1.87, 11 wins and nine losses, 10 complete games and nine saves. The 1968 season brought Phil to the regular rotation, and he finished the season with a record of 14 and 12, appearing in 37 games and completing 15 games. Three of his appearances were in relief for the Braves. Niekro became a regular starter in 1969, his first All-Star season, with a record of 23-13 and an ERA of 2.56, which brought him to second place behind Tom Seaver for the Cy Young Award. In the playoffs that year he pitched and lost to the New York Mets against Tom Seaver. In 1970 he was 12-18 with an ERA of 4.27 and was the league leader, giving up 40 home runs. From 1971 to 1973 his record was 44-36 for the three seasons, but he threw a no-hitter on August 5 against the San Diego Padres, the first in Atlanta after the move from Milwaukee. The 1974 season was among his best, with 20 wins to lead the league while pitching 302.1 innings. He was an All-Star in 1975 with a record of 15 and 15, then in 1976 he went 17-11. Between 1977 and 1979, he was the league leader in complete games, innings pitched and batters faced and in 1979, at 40 years old, he led the league in both wins and losses: 21 wins, 20 losses. He won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards for the three seasons and made his third All-Star appearance. He had tough seasons in 1980 through 1981, going 15-18 and 7-7. He was 43 years old in 1982; Phil led the team with a 17-4 season while winning his fourth Gold Glove and an appearance in the All-Star game. On October 1 with the Braves ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers by one game, Niekro beat the San Diego Padres, throwing a complete game and hitting a home run. In the playoffs he pitched well, but the St. Louis Cardinals won the series with a sweep. He won his fifth Gold Glove in 1983, had a record of 11-10 and was released in the off-season. The Yankees signed him to a two-year contract in 1984, and in his first season there he won 16 games and made his fifth All-Star appearance. In 1985 on October 6, he entered the 300-win club with a shutout victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. At 46 years and 188 days, Niekro became the oldest pitcher to earn a shutout in the major leagues. He finished the season with a record of 16-12 and was released by the Yankees in the off-season. He spent the next two seasons (1986-1987) with the Cleveland Indians and his record was 18-22. In August he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, and with a record of 0-2 he was released during the season. In September he signed a one-year contract back with the Braves and retired at the end of the season. Niekro was a side-arm, knuckleball pitcher for 24 seasons in the majors. Peter Rose commented that “I work for three weeks to get my swing down pat and Phil messes it up in one night. Trying to hit the thing is a miserable way to make a living.” One of his catchers, Bob Uecker, was often frustrated by the pitches and said, “Niekro struck out a hitter once and I never touched the ball. It hit me in the shin guard, bounced out to Clete Boyer at third base and he threw out the runner at first. Talk about a weird assist, catcher to third baseman to first on a strikeout.” After retirement he became the manager of the women Colorado Silver Bullets baseball team. He joined the Kiz Toys company as a member of the Board of Directors, based in Cumming, Georgia, advising the company on the baseball line – reviewing product designs and development. The Gwinnet Braves’ home field, Coolray Field, has a restaurant named after Niekro which features the Knucksie Sandwich made of barbecue and coleslaw over a corn muffin, said to be his favorite. Niekro supported the students of Bridgeport High School, where he once played, with the proceeds of an annual golf tournament, “The Niekro Classic.” Phil Niekro had major league career records of 318 wins, 274 losses, an ERA of 3.35, 864 games, 45 shutouts, 29 saves, 5,404 innings pitched, giving up 5,044 hits, 2,012 earned runs, 2,337 runs, 482 home runs, 1,809 bases on balls and 3,342 strikeouts. Niekro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997, the only player elected that year. Phil Niekro died in his sleep on December 26, 2020. He had earlier been diagnosed with cancer. I doubt if we will ever again see such a talented 48-yearold pitcher throwing a sidearm knuckleball in the major leagues. Thanks for the memories, Phil Niekro. 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