April 1st, 2013
Talk about a perfect birthday celebrant for April Fools’ Day, this five-time All Star’s legendary knuckleball fooled thousands of Major League hitters during a 24-year career. The late Bobby Murcer once said that trying to hit Niekro’s signature pitch was like trying to eat jello with chopsticks. The Pitcher once told a Baseball Digest columnist that his goal was to throw the knuckler right down the heart of the plate and let the ball do the rest. He confessed to having no idea where his pitches would end up but either did the hitter. “Knucksie” spent 21 seasons pitching for the Braves before signing with the Yankees in 1984, as a free agent. In his two seasons in pinstripes, he won 32 games including his 300th career victory in 1985. Only five other Major League hurlers won more games than Niekro did during the two seasons he pitched in the Bronx.
Following the 1985 season, New York signed Phil’s younger brother Joe, also a knuckleballer, as a free agent. The Neikro’s were looking forward to pursuing and eclipsing Gaylord and Jim Perry’s record for most ML victories by two brothers, as Yankee teammates. That didn’t happen. Right before their 1986 spring training camp broke, the Yankees played a cruel and early April Fools joke on the Niekro siblings when they unexpectedly released Phil. Both Niekro’s were bitter about the decision claiming the New York front office knew the only reason Joe signed with the team was the opportunity to pitch with his older brother. Phil pitched for two more seasons, retiring in 1987 with a lifetime record of 318-274. He also won five Gold Gloves and made five All Star teams during his long career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. The Niekro boys did become the winning-est set of siblings in league history with 538, surpassing the Perry’s by nine victories.
There have been a total of four 300-game-winning pitchers who wore the Yankee pinstripes during their careers. They are listed below in order of their lifetime victories: