Phil Niekro’s catchers are saying goodbye….
from Steve Hummer, at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution
If anyone should tell the story of Phil Niekro and the pitch that made him a Braves folk hero, it’s rightly those former teammates on the receiving end of his dancing knuckleball.
Niekro’s catchers made up a fraternity charged with imposing order on a pitch that seemed to have a mind all its own, that skipped from mound to plate like a carefree schoolboy. They never lacked mettle. And they may all have deserved a medal. He went through plenty of them in 24 seasons, 1964-87, 21 of those with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.
Some are no longer with us, like the fellow who caught Niekro’s no-hitter in 1973 (Paul Casanova). Joe Torre’s still here, and he caught Niekro at the beginning. Bruce Benedict caught him at the end. They say no one corralled that free-spirited pitch better — or for more games, 148 — than “Eggs” Benedict. And no one had more fun with it than Bob Uecker. He (in 1967) and Bob Didier (1969) and the late Earl Williams (’72) led the league in passed balls, a tribute to their working relationship with Niekro and his unpredictable pitch.
All these years later, what else was there to do but laugh about it? It was Uecker who made catching Niekro an important part of his famed self-roast routine, coining the line that best way to catch his knuckleball was to wait until it stopped rolling and just pick it up. Among others.
Read more on Phil Niekro’s catchers when you CLICK HERE….from Steve Hummer, at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution….