COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Three hundred victories in baseball is considered monumental, and the 500-win plateau was achieved by only one man: Cy Young.
But a pair of brothers topped that mark as well. Phil and Joe Niekro are the all-time winningest tandem in all of baseball.
Twenty-four years ago this week – on June 1, 1987 – Phil Niekro won his 314th game, giving him and his brother the 530 victories needed to surpass the 529 wins by the Perry brothers, Gaylord and Jim.
It may not have been a pretty sight in the box score, but Phil was more than appreciative in the fact that the summit was reached.
“This wasn’t one of my best games,” said Phil, “but I’ll take it. We did something that we hope will stand for a long time.”
The 48-year-old Phil Niekro made it threw only five complete innings that day, giving up six runs in the Cleveland Indians’ 9-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Phil was the oldest player in the league at the time, and was in the final year of his 24-year big league career.
Phil’s previous performance was far more superior, when he pitched a complete game four-hitter. But the Indians lost 1-0 to the Boston Red Sox behind their ace Roger Clemens.
With the victory, Phil pulled even with future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry on the all-time wins list at 314. He would win four more games that season and retire with a total of 318, good for 13th all-time when he retired. He currently ranks 16th all-time.
Joe pitched one more season in 1988, finishing his career with 221 wins after 22 years of big league service.
Both Niekro brothers relied on the father time-friendly pitch, the knuckleball. With both brothers pitching well into their 40s, they attributed much of their success to their father, Phil Niekro Sr., who taught them the pitch.
“My dad learned to throw the knuckleball so he could keep pitching,” said Phil. “He showed me how to hold it and we’d just play knuckleball in the backyard. He was such a great competitor.”
Phil Niekro earned enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, after three decades of letting the knuckleball dance across the plate and baffle hitters.
Kevin Stiner was the spring 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum