How Phil Niekro tossed his brother aside in his 300th win
- Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
- Analyst/reporter ESPN television
- Has covered baseball since 1981
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1939, Phil Niekro was born.
Here is the story of how the Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher, then with the Yankees, won his 300th game. The Blue Jays had clinched a playoff spot on the second-to-last day of the 1985 season. So on the last day, “They were all hung over,” said Niekro, who was scheduled to pitch the season finale that Sunday afternoon. He was going for his 300th victory. The night before, he and his brother Joe, also a Yankees pitcher, decided that Joe would pitch in relief of Phil so he could potentially have a part in Phil’s historic 300th win.
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“So with two outs in the ninth inning, Joe, not the pitching coach, came to the mound to tell me if I got one more out, I’d be the oldest pitcher ever (at 46) to throw a shutout,” Phil said. “So I told him, ‘Forget our plan, get the hell off the mound!’ The Blue Jays had runners at second and third. Jeff Burroughs, who was a teammate of mine in Atlanta, was at the plate. We were deciding whether to walk him to load the bases. Burroughs looked at me, pointed to himself and said, ‘Pitch to me.’ He swung at a knuckleball that was 3 feet outside for the final out … it was the only knuckleball I threw the whole game.”
Other baseball notes from April 1
In 1987, Tony Pena was traded from the Pirates to the Cardinals. He would catch the most games of anyone in major league history — 1,950 — without ever catching a no-hitter.
In 1914, Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Waddell died at 37, He was a kind, but unusual man who occasionally wouldn’t show up to the ballpark, and once was found playing marbles with kids while his team was playing. While a player, he tried other jobs: vaudeville, stage actor, bartender and alligator wrestler.
In 2013, Clayton Kershaw became the second starting pitcher ever to hit a home run to break up a scoreless tie in the eighth inning or later, joining Juan Pizarro, who homered off Tom Seaver in 1971.
In 2011, Blue Jays rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia hit two home runs a couple of weeks after he did an impersonation of me — my whiny, terrible voice — on Baseball Tonight. It was awful, but eventually, it was hilarious. “Please tell me that you do other impersonations,” I said to him. “Please tell me you do Jack Nicholson.” He said, “No, I only do you.”
In 1982, the Rangers traded two of their best young pitching prospects, Ron Darling and Walt Terrell, to the Mets for outfielder Lee Mazzilli, which turned out to be an awful deal for the Rangers. I was covering the Rangers at the time. I went to find farm director Joe Klein, but I was told that “Joe is not available. He just jumped off the roof of the Holiday Inn.”
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