Phil Niekro

Phil  Niekro

The Baseball Hall of Famer got his athletic start with the Bulldogs where he was a three-sport performer. Besides baseball, he was a football end and basketball forward and a teammate of fellow OVAC Hall of Famer John Havlicek.

Nicknamed “Knucksie” because of his staple pitch, the knuckleball, which he learned from his father, Niekro was a four-year Bulldog pitcher with a 17-1 career record. His only loss was 1-0 to Tiltonsville in 1954, his freshman year, when fellow Baseball and OVAC Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski hit the game-winning home run. The 1955 Bulldog team shared the East Ohio League title with Martins Ferry.

In a 9-4 Ohio sectional tournament win over St. John’s, Niekro won the game in relief and belted a two-run single. Bridgeport, however, was halted in the finals by Shadyside, a team twice defeated by the Bulldogs. In 1956, Niekro and the Bulldogs defeated Steubenville Central, 7-1, in the Class A district tournament after sectional wins over Barnesville and St. Clairsville. Bridgeport bowed to East Liverpool in the district finals.

As a senior, Niekro tossed a four-hitter and struck out 10 in a 4-2 win over Steubenville Catholic for the OVAC Ohio-side title. He earlier hurled an 8-2 win over East Liverpool in the Class AA district semifinals. Unbeaten Steubenville Catholic halted Bridgeport, 6-1 in the finals.

Niekro, who also played for the Bridgeport Legion team and Blaine in the summer Twilight League, was signed by the Milwaukee Braves for a $500 bonus at a 1958 tryout camp in Bellaire.

In 1964, he started a 24-year major league career with the Braves, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays. He had a 318-274 career record while appearing in 864 games and striking out 3,342 batters, eighth on the all-time charts. He hurled a no-hitter and won five Gold Gloves and was named to five All-Star teams.

The Braves honored him by erecting a bronze statue in front of their home stadium and, in 1997, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He resides in the Atlanta area.

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