Cochran: Phil Niekro and James Brown, godfathers of the knuckleball

From SABR member Jeff Cochran at on July 8, 2013:

On The Good Foot …  Phil Niekro was feeling good. It was Sunday, July 9, 1978 and in two days he’d be in San Diego, pitching for the National League All-Stars. Three days earlier he had pitched a strong eight and a third innings against the defending National League Champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Niekro had carried a 1-0 lead for his Atlanta Braves into the eighth inning, but once he came out, the Braves bullpen turned the game into a 5-1 loss. There was nothing new about that. In his 12 years as a starting pitcher for the Braves, Niekro had witnessed the team find new and highly creative ways to lose games, despite his sterling performances on the mound.

The Braves had finished last in the National League West the three previous seasons and would do so again in ’78, but that didn’t stop Phil Niekro. He did whatever it took to help the team win a game. On that hot Sunday afternoon, the Braves held a 4-1 lead going into the sixth inning.  Their starting pitcher, Preston Hanna, looked good through five innings but couldn’t go the distance. The Braves needed to win; if they did so, it’d be a winning series against the San Diego Padres, a team with four future Hall of Famers, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Gaylord Perry and Rollie Fingers. And among the less than 9,000 people (including fans, players, vendors – everybody) in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, there was no one who wanted to win more than Phil Niekro. He’d handle it,  even if it meant hurling that knuckleball after only three days rest and just two days before he’d play in the All Star Game some 1,900 miles away.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: July 8, 2013. Last Updated: July 8, 2013.