Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Oddly Enough, The First Niekro I Ever Heard Of Was Joe

I was talking about Phil Niekro, and was reminded of this piece that Bill James wrote in the 1986 Baseball Abstract about all the people Phil Niekro was older than (or is it "all the people than whom Phil Niekro was older?"). Anyway, I always liked the piece, just because it was so astonishing to be reminded of the fact that many people who were managers, or hadn't played since the '50s, were younger than Niekro. Niekro was still active at the time, and was pitching well; he'd gone 16-12 the previous year and had had four straight winning seasons. That year (1986) he was 11-11, and he didn't retire until he'd finally posted a losing record (in 1987).

Anyway, here's the James piece, cut n' pasted from a message board post:

Did you know that Phil Niekro is five years older than Denny McLain? Phil Niekro is older than Ron Santo. Phil Niekro is older than Joe Torre. Phil Niekro is older than Lou Brock or Carl Yastrzemski. Phil Niekro is older than Joe Pepitone. Phil Niekro is older than Richie Allen.

Jeff Torborg was dismissed in his third season as manager of Cleveland; that was seven years ago. Phil Niekro is older than Jeff Torborg, two and a half years older. Phil Niekro is older than Bobby Cox or Pat Corrales.

Do you remember Zoilo Versalles, who was the American League's MVP 21 years ago? Phil Niekro is older than Zoilo Versalles. Do you remember Jose Azcue, the great Azcue? Phil Niekro is older than Jose Azcue. Phil Niekro is older than Bernie Allen, Gene Alley, Mike Shannon, Dave Nicholson or Roger Repoz. Phil Niekro is older than Tony La Russa, Doug Rader or Ken Harrelson of the White Sox.

We can do this by teams . . . let's do the Cardinals. You probably know all the current Cardinals: Steve Braun is the oldest of them. Mike Torrez, who started with the Cardinals and then pitched for everybody else before dropping out of the game, was older than Steve Braun. Rick Wise, another peripatetic pitcher of similar talent, was older and earlier than Torrez; Steve Carlton is older than Wise, for whom he was once traded. Jose Cardenal, who patrolled the Cardinal outfield behind Carlton, was older than Steve. Tim McCarver, who caught for that team, is older than Jose Cardenal. Ray Sadecki, a teammate of McCarver's in his early days, a twenty-game winner of the 1964 Worlds Champions, was older than McCarver. You may remember Dick Nen, who hit the gigantic home run which buried the Cardinals the year before that, 1963. Nen was older than Sadecki. If you think hard enough, you may remember Julio Gotay, the Cardinal's [sic] shortstop before they traded for Dick Groat. Gotay, who was most famous as the man who dropped his mail in a green-painted trash bin for several weeks before Curt Flood discovered it, was older than Dick Nen. Von McDaniel, the Cardinals' pitching sensation of 1957, was older than Julio Gotay. But Phil Niekro is older than Von McDaniel.

Phil Niekro is older than Claude Osteen, the veteran pitching coach, or Milt Pappas. Phil Niekro is older than Sammy Ellis, one of the Yankee pitching coaches, or Dick Ellsworth. Phil Niekro is older than Tommie Aaron, except that Aaron is dead and you can't get any older than dead. I remember a few years ago at spring training, when Tommie was a coach with the Braves, he was hitting fungoes one day, his claim to alphabetical supremacy stretched across his back. Susie and I were sitting and watching him. A little woman about fifty yelled out from behind us, sounding for all the world like a character in the background of an old movie, "Haank. Oh, Haannk." She had a camera. At length, Tommie turned around, and gave a dutiful, patient half-smile. She took a picture and yelled, "Oh, thank you, Hank." Then he died a year or so later.

You remember Don Kessinger? Phil Niekro is older than Don Kessinger or Beckert. Glenn Beckert got the job as Cubs' second baseman after Ken Hubbs was killed in a plane crash in the spring of 1964. Phil Niekro is three years older than Ken Hubbs would be. Phil Niekro is older than Felix Millan or Sonny Jackson or Rico Carty. Phil Niekro is older than Martin Luther King or either of the Kennedys were at the time of their assassinations. Phil Niekro is older than Boog Powell. Phil Niekro is more than ten years older than I am.

Funny thing, though. He don't look a day over 60.


Anonymous said...

James' prose has always been underrated.

Anonymous said...

I occasionally saw these sorts of things more recently, talking about Julio Franco shortly before he retired.

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