Phil Niekro made his major league debut the year I was born; 18 years later, he pitched the Braves to their 2nd NL West Division title.
The 43-year-old Niekro went 17-4 for the Braves that 1982 season, a team that ended up 16 games over .500, and whose only other starter with a record above .500 was the rather pedestrian Bob Walk. He was able to accomplish this record due to the fact that he was a wizard and possibly a Highlander . The highlight of the season came the final weekend, with the Braves nursing a one-game lead over the Dodgers. Niekro hit the last of his seven major league home runs en route to a complete game 3-0 shutout over the Padres. I defy any supporter of the designated hitter to counter with a moment as cool as this:
Niekro started the first game of the 1982 National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, and threw 4 shutout innings before the game was called due to rain, with the Braves leading 1-0. Game One was replayed in its entirety the next day with Pascual Perez taking the loss for the Braves. Niekro came back on two days’ rest to pitch game two, and he left after six innings with a 3-2 lead. The bullpen took the loss, and the Braves subsequently lost game three to complete the sweep.
In 1979, at age 40, Niekro had his career high in innings pitched — 342 — one of four seasons in which he topped 300 IP. He won the last of his five Gold Glove awards at age 44, and made his final All-Star team at age 45, with the Yankees. In his spare time, he made relief appearances in 19 of his 24 major league seasons.
With 318 wins and 3342 strikeouts, Phil Niekro was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame the year I turned 33.