Joe Niekro
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Joe Niekro
Joe Niekro
Joe Niekro - Houston Astros - 1976.jpg
Niekro in 1976
Born: (1944-11-07)November 7, 1944
Martins Ferry, Ohio
Died: October 27, 2006(2006-10-27) (aged 61)
Tampa, Florida
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 16, 1967, for the Chicago Cubs
Last MLB appearance
April 29, 1988, for the Minnesota Twins
MLB statistics
Win-loss record221-204
Earned run average3.59
Career highlights and awards

Joseph Franklin Niekro (November 7, 1944 - October 27, 2006) was an American Major League Baseball right-handed pitcher. He was the younger brother of pitcher Phil Niekro, and the father of Major League pitcher and first baseman Lance Niekro. Born in Martins Ferry, Ohio,[1] Niekro attended Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio and attended West Liberty University in West Liberty, West Virginia. During a 22-year baseball career, he pitched from 1967-1988 for seven different teams, primarily for the Houston Astros.


Niekro was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the seventh round of the 1966 amateur draft, but he did not sign with the club. On June 7, he was drafted in the third round of the draft by the Chicago Cubs. Niekro went 10-7 in 1967, throwing 169.2 innings while having a 3.34 ERA and 77 strikeouts. The season after, he went 14-10 while throwing 177.1 innings on a 4.31 ERA while having 65 strikeouts. On April 25, 1969, he was traded to the expansion San Diego Padres along with Frankie Libran and Gary Ross for Dick Selma. His combined total for the season was 8-18, throwing 62 strikeouts in 221.1 innings while having a 3.70 ERA. Along with Al Santorini, he led the Padres in wins with eight. He was traded by the Padres on December 4 to the Detroit Tigers for Dave Campbell and Pat Dobson. In three seasons with Detroit, he went 21-22, having his best season in 1970 by going 12-13, although he had a 4.06 ERA in 213 innings, with a high of 101 strikeouts. He threw 122 innings in the next season and just 47 in the following. He was selected off waivers by the Atlanta Braves on August 7, 1973. Niekro used a fastball and a slider early in his career, with mixed results. In his two seasons with the Braves, he went a combined total of 5-6 while having a 3.76 ERA and 67 innings pitched. During his tenure, he got re-acquainted with the knuckleball that their father taught them. The knuckleball became an essential part of his arsenal though never his sole pitch. Joe threw harder than Phil and could set up batters nearly as effectively with his fastball in combination with his excellent changeup.

The Houston Astros purchased Niekro's contract from the Braves for $35,000 in 1975. He blossomed into a dominant pitcher as he perfected his knuckleball in Houston, going 21-11 in 1979 and 20-12 in 1980, to become the first Astros pitcher to win 20 games in consecutive seasons. He also made the National League All-Star team in 1979, a season in which he led the league with his 21 wins and five shutouts, won the TSN Pitcher of the Year Award, and ended second in voting for the Cy Young Award behind Bruce Sutter. 1979 also saw the Niekro brothers tie for the wins leader in Major League Baseball, marking this the only year that two brothers shared this honor.

In 1980, Houston had a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West, then lost their last three games of the regular season in Los Angeles, to force a one-game playoff. Niekro allowed six hits in a 7-1 Houston victory that propelled the Astros to their first postseason. He then pitched 10 shutout innings in Game 3 of the NLCS, with the Astros eventually winning 1-0 in the 11th inning, though they lost the series in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies. He went 9-9 in 1981, throwing a 2.82 ERA in 166 innings, although he struck-out just 77 batters. He appeared in Game 2 of the 1981 National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching eight scoreless innings, although Joe Sambito ended up being the winning pitcher for the Astros as they won in the 11th inning, though the Dodgers would win the series in five games. In his next three seasons, he won over 15 games in each, although his ERA was inconsistent, being as low as 2.47 in 1982 and as high as 3.48 in 1983. He threw a career high of 16 complete games and 130 strikeouts in 1982.

In 1985, he had gone 9-12 with a 3.72 ERA in 213 innings before being traded to the New York Yankees on September 15 for two players to be named later (Neder Horta and Dody Rather) and Jim Deshaies, where Niekro briefly reunited again with his brother Phil.[2] In his three seasons with New York, he went 14-15 with a 4.58 ERA in 188.2 total innings. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Mark Salas on June 7, 1987. He went 4-9 with a 6.26 ERA in 96.1 innings. That year, he pitched in the World Series, his only appearance in a World Series. In his one appearance in Game 4, he pitched the fifth and sixth innings. He allowed one hit while striking out one and allowing no runs. [3]

Earlier that season, Niekro had been suspended for ten games for cheating when umpire Tim Tschida discovered a nail file in his pocket during a game against the California Angels. When Tschida told Niekro to empty his pockets, Niekro reached into his pockets, pulled out his hands and threw them in the air. The emery board and a piece of sandpaper flew out of his pocket and fluttered to the ground. The video of this made a lot of sports-highlight shows and is a common "blooper" clip today. Niekro said he was filing his nails in the dugout, but American League president Dr. Bobby Brown did not believe him, and ordered the suspension.

After pitching in five games and going 1-1 with a 10.03 ERA in 11.2 innings, he was released by the Twins. In his final start, he pitched three innings against the Boston Red Sox on April 29, allowing five runs on six hits in three innings. [4]


On October 26, 2006, Niekro suffered a brain aneurysm and was taken to South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, Florida. He was later transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida, where he died the following day at age 61.

Joe Niekro Foundation

The Joe Niekro Foundation, created by his daughter Natalie, is committed to supporting patients and families, research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms, AVMs, and hemorrhagic strokes. The non-profit organization provides education on the risk factors, causes, and treatment of these conditions, while funding the advancement of neurological research.

Statistics and records

  • His 221 career wins make him one of the most successful knuckleball pitchers of all time. The Niekro brothers combined for 539 total wins, setting the major league record for the most wins by a pair of brothers.
  • On May 29, 1976, Niekro hit the only big league home run of his career (973 lifetime at bats), and it came off his brother Phil.[5]
  • In the 1987 World Series with Minnesota, Niekro set a record for the longest period of time between a major league debut and a first appearance in the Series.
  • On July 2, 1970, while with the Tigers, Niekro had a no-hitter broken up with one out in the ninth by a Horace Clarke single; this would be the only hit Niekro allowed in defeating the New York Yankees, 5-0.[6] With his brother Phil pitching a no-hitter in 1973, the Niekros would have been the first brothers to pitch Major League no-hitters. (The Forsch brothers would eventually become the first, and the only ones as of 2014, to have that distinction, Bob pitching two, in 1978 and 1983, and Ken in 1979.)


  • He appeared on Late Night with David Letterman on August 15, 1987, wearing a carpenter's apron and carrying a power sander, while serving a suspension for having a nail file on the mound.[7]
  • The Minnesota Twins released a bobblehead set of the 1987 World Series team; Niekro's included a nail file in his back pocket.
  • In 1992, Joe Niekro was inducted in the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "Kingman Daily Miner - Google News Archive Search".
  2. ^ "Yankees acquire Niekro." Lewiston Daily Sun. 1985 Sept 16.
  3. ^ "1987 World Series Game 4, Minnesota Twins at St. Louis Cardinals, October 21, 1987 -".
  4. ^ "Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox Box Score, April 29, 1988 -".
  5. ^ "Retrosheet Boxscore: Houston Astros 4, Atlanta Braves 3".
  6. ^ "New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Box Score, July 2, 1970 -".
  7. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE; Suspended Animation". New York Times. August 16, 1987. Retrieved October 28, 2006.
  8. ^ "Joe Niekro - National Polish-American". National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2018.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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