Seeing this is Topps’ 75th anniversary year, we started looking for people and events which occurred 75 years ago. Everyone remembers different aspects about players from the past but my first two thoughts of players born in 1939 were Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Carl Yastrzemski.
Niekro is interesting as a player as he really did not develop into a full-time major league starter until he was in his late 20s and won the 1967 NL ERA title. A little remembered fact of that season was that Niekro was one of the first pitchers to have a personal catcher: a weak-hitting player near the end of his career who you might have heard of from his post-playing career. His name was Bob Uecker.
And when Uke talks about how bad he was as a hitter, his 1967 gives proof of that as he batted all of .146 for the Braves and led all NL catchers in both errors and passed balls. In case you wondered how Uecker ever got his stories, most of them probably came out of that season.
While Uecker was working his way to a new career, Niekro was just beginning on his way towards 300 career wins and a Hall of Fame berth. Very few of us would have thought in 1967 that a player whose tough high number rookie card was in the 1964 Topps High Number Series as part of a two player card.
You can see a nice example of that card closing tonight on eBay by clicking here.
Niekro inexplicably shows up again on a rookie card in ’65. Check out other ‘Knucksie’ cards here.
The story of Phil Niekro is one of our favorite long-term baseball stories as he pitched late into his 40’s and gave hope to a generation of fans who believed he could be young forever.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]