1966 Topps Phil Niekro #28 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾
Early in Niekro’s career, he was misused by the Braves. It seems obvious to state it out loud, but knuckleball pitchers should start games. Bringing a knuckleballer into a game as a reliever, especially with runners on base, is just asking for trouble. They are going to walk people. They are going to have passed balls. Truth is, the more the ball is knuckling, the more likely they are to have the occasional walk and/or passed ball or wild pitch.
In 1964 and 1965, the Braves let Phil Niekro start a single game. He still pitched well and pretty much forced the team to keep him on the roster in 65 by pitching so well. In 1966, he was again in the bullpen and was much less effective. In 1967, the Braves finally gave him 20 starts and he blossomed into a star. By 1968, he would be a full time member of the rotation, and would continue to be used out of the bullpen between starts for years and years and years. I wonder how many games the Braves cost themselves in those three years by not using the future Hall of Fame pitcher correctly.