Call Him a Catcher in the Wry

Apart from the fact that he is 46 years old, the most remarkable thing about Phil Niekro’s pursuit of 300 wins is that he didn’t really establish himself in the major leagues until the age of 28.

Niekro told Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant that his career wasn’t going anywhere until 1967, when Atlanta Braves General Manager Paul Richards made a deal to acquire a catcher who would work expressly with Niekro and his knuckleball.

Of the catcher, Niekro said: “He kept hammering the knuckleball into my head and made a believer of me.”

Niekro wound up leading the National League with an ERA of 1.87.

The catcher was Bob Uecker.

Trivia Time: On this date in 1969, Steve Carlton of the St. Louis Cardinals set a major league record by striking out 19 batters in a game against the New York Mets. The record later was tied by Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, but Carlton’s performance remains unique. Why? (Answer below.)


It has not been a banner year for relief pitcher Bill Caudill, who came to Toronto from Oakland in the offseason amidst much fanfare, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

After Toronto’s 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees Friday night, Caudill was wondering why reporters were crowded around the locker of Blue Jay reliever Tom Henke.

“I can’t believe you guys don’t want to talk to me,” Caudill said. “The minute I started warming up, nobody scored.”

For What It’s Worth: With his 23rd homer Friday night, Reggie Jackson surpassed the total of Babe Ruth at the same age. Ruth, at 39, hit 22 homers for the New York Yankees in 1934. The next year, he was out of baseball, quitting the Boston Braves in midseason after hitting six homers.

The most homers by a 39-year-old? Henry Aaron hit 40 for Atlanta in 1973. Ted Williams hit 38 for Boston in 1957. That year, he also won the batting title with a .388 average.

Don Sutton, when he was pitching for the Dodgers, was asked what he thought about interleague play.

He said, “I hope it comes (a) after I’ve retired or (b) after Rod Carew has retired.”

Finally, it’s no longer a problem.

Pete Rose, the teetotaler, explains why he rubs alcohol on his bats: “So that, after a foul ball, I can see exactly where I hit it. If it’s too close to the label, I know the guy’s faster than he looked from the on-deck circle. If it’s too far toward the end, I’ve overestimated him. If it’s on the meat, I know all I have to do is get more on top of the ball.

“I make hand adjustments on the bat several times in any game.”

Would-you-believe-it dept.: Tom Lasorda, one of baseball’s most diligent umpire baiters, was once a referee in the Continental Basketball Assn.

Trivia Answer: He lost the game. The Mets beat the Cardinals, 4-3, on two home runs by Ron Swoboda.


Washington Redskins backfield coach Don Breaux, revealing that George Rogers has promised not to make any more crucial turnovers: “It’s a blood oath. If he fumbles again, I get his blood.”