Sunday, March 30, 2014

Joe Niekro (#43)

Joe Niekro was one of several sets of brothers who played in the majors in the 1960s. Like his older brother Phil, Joe was a knuckleball pitcher.

Joe was signed by the Cubs in 1966, and after only one season in the minors, he made his big-league debut in April 1967. He pitched 36 games (22 starts) as a rookie, and finished 3rd in innings pitched on the Cubs’ staff, behind Fergie Jenkins and fellow rookie Rich Nye.

Niekro was a member of the starting rotation for 2 seasons, then in late-April 1969 he was traded to the Padres for pitcher Dick Selma. Joe finished out the season with San Diego, then was traded to the Tigers for pitcher Pat Dobson.

Niekro spent played for the Tigers for all of 1970-71, and part of 1972. He spent the remainder of 1972 and most of 1973 in the Tigers’ farm system.

When the Braves claimed him off waivers in early August 1973, he joined the Braves for the rest of the season (uniting him with brother Phil), and made 20 relief appearances. Joe split his time between the Braves and their AAA team in 1974, then was sold to the Astros 2 days before the start of the 1975 season.

Niekro enjoyed his greatest success during his 11 seasons with the Astros. In 1979 he led the NL with 21 wins, made the all-star team, and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting. He followed up his great 1979 season by notching 20 wins in 1980, and pitching in the NLCS against the Phillies.

Two weeks before the end of the 1985 season, Joe was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Jim Deshaies. Once again, his brother Phil was a teammate, although Phil was traded away after the season. Joe remained in the Yankees’ starting rotation until his June 1987 trade to the Twins.

Niekro pitched for the Twins for the remainder of the 1987 season (including the World Series vs. the Cardinals), but after pitching 5 games in 1988, he was released in early May, ending his 22-year career.

Niekro passed away in October 2006 at age 61.

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