Phil Niekro versus the Oakland A’s

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1985: Pitcher Phil Niekro #35 of the New York Yankees pitches during a Major League Baseball game circa 1985 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Niekro played for the Yankees from 1984-85. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1985: Pitcher Phil Niekro #35 of the New York Yankees pitches during a Major League Baseball game circa 1985 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Niekro played for the Yankees from 1984-85. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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While Phil Niekro is remembered for his time with the Atlanta Braves, he did spend most of his final years in the American League, facing the Oakland A’s seven times.

The baseball world received sad news on Sunday afternoon. Atlanta Braves legend Phil Niekro had passed away overnight, succumbing to his long battle with cancer. He was 81 years old.

Niekro left behind a legacy as the greatest knuckleballer in major league history, one of only two knuckleballers to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He was also as great a person off the diamond as he was on the mound, willing to take anyone under his wing and teach them the secrets of the knuckleball with a smile.

While Niekro is remembered for his time with the Braves, most of his final years were spent in the American League. Both his 300th career win and 3000th strikeout came as a member of the Yankees. In fact, he spent two years in New York, and then appeared with the Indians and the Blue Jays, ending his career with one last outing for the Braves.

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During his time in the American League, Niekro faced the A’s seven times. While knuckleballers were not the dying breed they are these days, the pitch was still fairly rare. It would not have been a surprise if Niekro had a good deal of success against Oakland, even if he was facing them in his mid to late 40s.

Niekro did have a measure of success, posting a 3-1 record against the A’s in his seven appearances. However, those outings were not exactly going to appear on his highlight reel – Niekro posted a 5.54 ERA and a 1.446 WHiP in his 37.1 innings against Oakland, striking out 21 batters with 15 walks. He posted a higher ERA against only three other teams – the Rangers, Tigers, and White Sox.

His lack of success against the A’s did not matter. Niekro ended his career with a 318-274 record, posting a 3.35 ERA and a 1.268 WHiP over 5404 innings, striking out 3342 batters with 1809 walks. Although it took five attempts, Niekro was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of baseball’s immortals.

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Our thoughts go out to Phil Niekro’s family and friends in this difficult time.

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