Braves' Niekro Harnesses Knuckler, Plagues Hitters

Filed under Atlanta Braves
July 6, 1969

The emergence of the Braves’ Phil Niekro into one of the top pitchers in the major leagues did not come overnight. It just seems that way. Oh, the basic ingredient has always been there. It simply required someone to get it out…a couple of somebodys in Niekro’s case. “Right,” Niekro said, “Paul Richards and Luman Harris.”

Richards is the Braves’ vice president in charge of baseball operations. Harris is their manager. Both specialize in making better pitchers of people like Niekro. “Since Richards and Harris took over, this organization turned over a new leaf for me,” said Niekro whose 2.00 ERA leads the National League. “They are the ones who made me believe I could be a winner. They worked with me. When I’d do something wrong, they’d be out working with me the next day.”

What Richards and Harris did was corral Niekro’s knuckler, a dipsy-doodle pitch which breaks in such a pattern that even Niekro doesn’t know where it’s going. Neither does the catcher. So, how could the batter know? “In the past,” continued Niekro, “I’d get a couple of runners on base, and I’d be taken out of the game and maybe not used again for days. Not any more. There have been times this year where they could have taken me out, but they stuck with me and we came back to win the game.”

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