Phil Niekro was a Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher who pitched for 24 seasons and won 318 games in his career. When this card was made it wasn't obvious that Niekro would be a future HOFer. He had 145 career wins at the age of 37 when the 1976 season started. Phil had 121 victories after the age of 40.
Niekro was drafted by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958. He pitched in the minors from 1959-1962, mostly as a reliever. Phil didn't pitch in 1963 (military service).
- Niekro made the Milwaukee Braves club in 1964. Phil pitched in ten games for the Braves (0-0, 4.80 ERA) before being sent back to the minors in mid-May. In 1965 Niekro was 2-3 with six saves and a 2.89 ERA in 41 games (1 start). Phil split the 1966 season between the Braves and AAA Richmond. He was 4-3 with a 4.11 ERA in 28 games for the Braves in '66.
- Phil led the NL with a 1.87 ERA in 1967. He started 20 games and relieved in 26 others. He was 11-9 with nine saves in '67. The Braves made Niekro a full-time starter in 1968. He went 14-12 with a 2.59 ERA in 34 starts in 1968.
- Niekro had one of his best seasons for the NL West Champion Braves in 1969. He made the All Star team (Phil pitched a scoreless 9th inning and earned the save), finished second to Tom Seaver in Cy Young Award balloting, and finished 9th in MVP voting. Phil went 23-13 with a 2.56 ERA during the regular season. Niekro took the loss in game 1 of the NLCS.
- The 1970 season was Phil's worst season of the decade. He led the NL with 40 home runs allowed and went 12-18 with a 4.27 ERA. Niekro came back in 1971 to go 15-14 with a 2.98 ERA. He was 16-12, 3.06 in 1972 and 13-10, 3.31 in 1973. Phil no-hit the San Diego Padres on August 5, 1973.
- Phil was a 20-game winner for the second time in 1974. He went 20-13 and led the NL in wins, complete games (18) and innings pitched (302.1). Phil was third in NL Cy Young Award balloting behind Dodgers Mike Marshall and Andy Messersmith that year.
- Niekro made the NL All Star team in 1975 but didn't get into the game. He went 15-15 with a 3.20 ERA in 1975. Phil was 17-11 with a 3.29 ERA in 1976. Phil Niekro: The Braves' Bargain Pitcher - November 1976 Baseball Digest.
- Starting in 1977 Phil had a run in which he led the NL in starts and in losses. Niekro was 16-20 in 1977 and 19-18 in 1978. Phil was an NL All Star in 1978 and got Darrel Porter to foul out to end the game. He also won the first of five Gold Glove awards. In 1979 Niekro led the NL in wins (21) and in losses (20). Phil led the NL in complete games and in innings pitched for the third straight year in 1979 and also won his second Gold Glove. Niekro won the Gold Glove again in 1980 and was 15-18.
- Phil was 7-7 in 22 starts in the strike-shortened 1981 season. In 1982 Niekro led the NL with a .810 winning percentage. He went 17-4 in 35 starts and was an All Star again (he didn't get into the game). Phil won a Gold Glove and was fifth in Cy Young Award voting. Niekro started game 2 of the NLCS and had a 3-2 lead after six innings but the bullpen was unable to hold the lead. Phil Niekro Still Knuckles Down To Task of Winning - January 1983 Baseball Digest.
- Niekro went 11-10 with a 3.97 ERA in 1983 and won a Gold Glove for the fifth and final time. The Braves released Phil after the season and he signed with the New York Yankees. End of the Line for An Old Brave? - February 1984 Baseball Digest.
- In 1984 Phil went 16-8 with a 3.09 ERA and was an AL All Star (again he didn't get into the game). Niekro Still Makes Batter Knuckle Under - September 1984 Baseball Digest. Niekro was 16-12 with a 4.09 ERA in 1985. Phil won his 300th game in his last start of the season on October 6. He didn't throw the knuckleball until the 9th inning but still pitched a complete game 4-hit shutout.
- Phil was released by the Yankees during spring training in 1986. He signed with the Cleveland Indians and went 11-11 in 32 starts. A Rare Pair of Indinas: Knucksie and Candy - October 1986 Baseball Digest.
- Niekro's last season was 1987. He started with the Indians and went 7-11 with a 5.89 ERA in 22 starts. On August 7 Phil was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Don Gordon and a minor leaguer. Niekro was 0-2 with an 8.25 ERA in three starts for the Blue Jays before being released on August 31. The Braves brought Phil back for one last start on September 27. Phil lasted 3+ innings and gave up 5 runs. After Niekro was taken out the scoreboard showed highlights from his career and Phil left to a standing ovation.
- After his playing career Niekro managed the Colorado Silver Bullets all woman baseball team. Phil was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. His nephew Lance was a first base prospect for the San Francisco Giants. Lance didn't make it as a first baseman so Phil taught him the knuckleball. Lance signed with the Braves organization in 2009. Phil is now a member of the Kiz Toys Board of Advisors.
Liked to face: Rich Gedman (.045 in 22 AB); Dave Campbell (.071 in 28 AB); Jim Hickman (.100 in 30 AB)
Hated to face: Lonnie Smith (.514 in 37 AB); Larry Biitner (.471 in 34 AB); Ken Singleton (.441 in 34 AB)
Phil's knuckleball during the 1982 National League Championship Series (game 2)