Blast From the Past – Phil Niekro

Through two games, the 2010 World Series has been a complete disaster for the Texas Rangers.  Their pitching, especially their bullpen, has been atrocious.

And everybody knows – you need pitching to win in the playoffs.

But you also need pitching to get to the playoffs in the first place, something the 1987 Blue Jays found out first hand.  We all remember the ’87 Blue Jays.  They were 3.5 games up on Detroit with only 7 games left to play, but lost all 7 – including 4 to the Tigers.  It was a complete collapse.

But what if the Jays would have had three extra wins before that stretch?  What if they would have been 6.5 up with 7 to play?  They very well could have been if not for this week’s feature in Blast From the Past, Mr. Phil Niekro.

Phil was a phenomenal pitcher in his day.  Over 300 career wins, a 5-time All-Star, a 5-time Gold Glove winner, and a member of the Hall of Fame.  He pitched, and pitched well, late into his career – his fifth All-Star appearance came in 1984 with the Yankees when he was 45 years old. 

But in August of 1987 Niekro was 48 years old.  He had been awful with Cleveland (7-11, 5.89 ERA).  The Jays were in the heat of a pennant race.  I have no idea why they thought a 48 year old knuckleball pitcher would be the final piece of the puzzle, but apparently they did, acquiring him from the Indians for Darryl Landrum and Don Gordon.

What happened next was complete and utter disaster.

Three starts.  Two losses and a no-decision.  Three Blue Jay losses.  12 innings pitched.  11 earned runs.  An ERA of 8.25 and a WHIP of 1.83.  Seven walks.

He made his third and final start on August 29th, and was released on August 31st. 

A disastrous tenure on a team that desperately needed solid pitching and wins.

In fact, according to Baseball Reference, 272 different players have pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Phil Niekro’s 8.25 ERA is 29th worst in the history of the franchise.  Of those 272, 216 have pitched at least 12 innings.  Phil Niekro has the 4th worst ERA of those men. 

But those pitchers were terrible when Toronto wasn’t a contender.  Niekro failed in the heart of a pennant race.

So for you Ranger fans who are angry and upset with Darren O’Day and his 7.36 ERA, or Mark Lowe and his 67.50 ERA, we feel your pain.  Though we never made the playoffs in 1987, we are fully aware that it takes only a couple of brutal performances to ruin a season. 

For us, Phil Niekro was your Mark Lowe.

Phil Niekro: Career Major League Statistics

24 seasons (1964 – 1987)

4 teams (ATL, NYY, CLE, TOR)

318-274 record, 5,404.0 IP, 3.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 3,342 K : 1,809 BB

*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better.  If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.

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