CLEVELAND: Hall of Fame starter Phil Niekro returned to Cleveland tonight as part of the Indians' alumni program.
Now 73, Niekro related the story of how he signed his first contract with a major-league team, the Milwaukee Braves, when he was a senior in high school and possibly the only teenager in the country who threw knuckleballs for his high school varsity.
“”The scout came over to our house and told my dad that the Braves would like to sign me,’’ Niekro said. “”The scout says, “How does $500 sound?’ My dad tells him, “I can’t come up with that kind of money, I’m a coal miner.’ Then the scout says, “No, we want to give your son $500.’ ‘’
Niekro pitched for the Tribe in 1986 and 1987 near the end of his career. Now, as then, knuckleball pitchers were a special breed. Pitching coaches didn't really know how to help them when they struggled.
""Nobody knew why we were throwing good, and nobody knew why we were throwing bad,'' he said.
Conventional pitchers are all about the mechanics of their delivery. Not knuckleball pitdchers.
""I don't know anything about that (mechanics),'' Niekro said. ""If I got the ball to the catcher with not much spin, that's all I tried to do.''