Remembering the Life of one of Baseball’s Greatest Pitchers: Phil Niekro

Known for his unhittable floating knuckleball that seemed to approach the plate like a balloon, Philip Henry “Phil” Niekro was a trailblazer, an icon, a legend, a Hall of Famer and so much more.

But most of all, he was a genuinely good soul. While most people will remember him for his daunting knuckleball and his ability to strikeout some of the best hitters the game of baseball has ever seen, I will remember him for his kind, generous heart. They just don’t make them like Phil anymore.

Niekro was born in Blaine, Ohio, and grew up in Lansing, Ohio. He attended Bridgeport High School In Bridgeport, Ohio, and was a boyhood friend of basketball Hall of Famer John Havlicek.

The baseball field on which he played at Bridgeport High School’s at Perkins Field athletic complex was renamed “The Niekro Diamond” in 2008 after both Phil and his brother Joe Niekro, whom was also a Major League pitcher.

Their father was a coal miner who pitched semipro baseball and had learned how to throw a knuckleball from another coal miner. He later taught his sons how to pitch in the backyard when they were kids.

During his 24 big league seasons, Phil Niekro rode his knuckleball to 5,404 innings pitched – the most of any pitcher who started his career in live ball era. Unlike most pitchers, Phil was more than simply durable.

His 318 wins and 3,342 strikeouts are a testament to a pitcher who was often untouchable. By the time he turned 40, Niekro had already won 121 games, the most wins by anyone that age in baseball history.

During his career Niekro, who became known as “Knucksie” due to the dancing movements of his famous pitch, appeared in 864 games, gave up 5,044 hits, 2,337 runs, in 5,404 innings pitched. Totaled 318 wins and 274 losses, starting 716 games, had an ERA of 3.35, pitched 245 complete games, 45 shutouts, earned 29 saves, surrendered 2,012 earned runs, 1,819 walks, and 3,342 strikeouts.

He spent time with the Milwaukee Braves (1964-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-83, 87), New York Yankees (1984-85), Cleveland Indians (1986-87), and Toronto Blue Jays (1987).

He was also a five-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner, the 1980 Roberto Clemente Award winner, led the National League in wins twice, pitched a no-hitter on August 5, 1973, had his number 35 retired by the Braves, is a member of the Braves Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1997, alongside Nellie Fox, Tommy LaSorda, and Willie Wells.

He died of cancer at age 81.

Rest well Knucksie, I’ll see you again on the other side. Thank you for not only your contributions to the Atlanta Braves organization, but also for your contributions to Major League Baseball, your name will live on forever in the book of baseball lore.

(Picture: Atlanta Braves Twitter)

Volunteers Look to Take Recent Frustrations out on Pittman’s Pesky Hogs

Before the football season began on September 26, these two programs seemed like they would be at two totally different ends of the totem pole.

Jeremy Pruitt’s Tennessee Volunteers (2-3) entered the season ranked in the Top 25, while first-year head coach Sam Pittman’s Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3) seemed to have Kirby Smart’s then-fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs on the proverbial ropes before the Dawgs came storming back with a late surge to take a 37-10 win over the Hogs in Fayetteville.

While both teams enter with identical 2-3 records, it seems that this game is a must-win for the Volunteers if they hope to get things back on track as we head toward the home stretch of the 2020 season.

Arkansas, who wasn’t expected to be very competitive at all this season has shocked the nation. The Hogs were projected to be the second-worst Southeastern Conference team in front of only Vanderbilt before the season began.

For Tennessee, things have taken a completely different path. The Volunteers were expected to be among the best in the Southeastern Conference in 2020 during the preseason, but that’s not the case on Rocky Top.

This year marks the 13th-straight season that Tennessee is not in contention for a conference title. Since leading Georgia 21-17 at halftime on October 10, Pruitt’s Volunteers have been outscored 109-24.

Following an open date on October 31, the Tennessee Volunteers are set to begin the second-half of their 2020 season with a trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to visit the pesky Razorbacks.

This will be Tennessee’s first trip to Fayetteville since 2011, as the Volunteers and Hogs are scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. CT kick on the SEC Network, with Tom Hart (play-by-play), Jordan Rodgers (analyst), and Cole Cubelic (sideline) on the call.

The game will be available on the airwaves in the Smokey Mountain region on the Vol Network WIVK 107.7 FM and WNML-FM 99.1 with Bob Kesling (play-by-play), Tim Priest and Brent Hubbs (analysts), and Kasey Funderburg (sideline) on the call.

Saturday’s contest in Fayetteville will mark the 19th overall meeting between the Razorbacks and Volunteers, and the sixth meeting in Fayetteville. Tennessee leads the all-time series 13-5.

In Knoxville, the Volunteers lead the series 6-2, in Fayetteville, Tennessee leads 3-2, in Little Rock, the Volunteers lead 3-0, and in bowl games, Tennessee leads 2-0.

The Volunteers all-time record on November 7 is (15-3), they are on a 14-game winning streak on this date.

In the last five games on this date, Tennessee is 5-0: 1981: 24-21 W over Wichita State, 1987: 41-10 W over Louisville, 1998: 37-13 W over UAB, 2009: 56-28 W over Memphis, and 2015: 27-24 over South Carolina.

Source: Tennessee Football Twitter.

Tennessee to Face Tough Mid-season Test in Hard-nosed, Second-ranked Alabama in Knoxville

It’s no secret that the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry has fallen off of a proverbial cliff in the last 13 years, from 2007 to last year, but that doesn’t take away from the downright hatred and bad blood that continues to flow rapidly through the veins of these two programs, and fans of the two respective programs alike.

Traditionally, the rivalry game has been played on the third Saturday in October. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic influenced schedules, the game was pushed back a week.

The Tennessee Volunteers and the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide are set to renew their rivalry at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday in Neyland Stadium on CBS. Gameday seating will be at approximately 25 percent of the venue’s full capacity of 102,455.

Saturday’s game will be available over the airwaves of the Smokey Mountains on the Vol Network with Bob Kesling (play-by-play), Tim Priest and Brent Hubbs (analysts), and Kasey Funderburg (sideline) on the call.

The CBS broadcast will be brought to viewers by Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst), and Jamie Erdahl (sideline) on the call.

Recent series history has been in favor of Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, as Alabama has won 13 meetings in a row (2007-2019). Tennessee has won nine of its last 12 games dating back to last season. Saturday marks the halfway point for the Volunteers’ season as Tennessee is off on October 31.

Tennessee punt returners are averaging 20.0 yards per punt return this season, which ranks third in the country and second in the Southeastern Conference.

Kick returner Velus Jones Jr., is averaging 25.0 yards per kick return this season, which ranks second among teams in the Southeastern Conference.

Tennessee’s defense has recorded two touchdowns thus far in 2020, which ranks third in the country and third in the Southeastern Conference.

20 Volunteers have made their Tennessee debut in 2020, including 17 true freshmen.

Inside the Series:

Saturday’s meeting between Alabama and Tennessee will mark the 103rd all-time meeting between the bitter rivals.

Alabama leads the series 57-38-7. The Crimson Tide lead the series in Knoxville, 26-20-1, Tuscaloosa, 10-4, and Birmingham 14-21-6.

Tennessee’s largest margin of victory in the series is 27 points (41-14, 1969 and 1995 respectively). Both of those games were played in Birmingham.

The Volunteers’ largest margin of defeat in the series is 51, which occurred in 1906, when the Tide beat Tennessee 51-0 in Birmingham.

Tennessee’s all-time record in games played on October 24 is 12-4-2, they are currently on a two game losing streak.

The last time a game was played on October 24 came in 2015 (19-14 L). The others came in 2009 (12-10 L to Alabama), 1998 (35-18 W over Alabama), 1987 (29-15 W over Georgia Tech), and 1981 (38-9 W over Memphis State).

Tennessee and Alabama have faced each other four times on October 24. The Vols own a 2-2 record again the Tide on that date, outscoring them 76-75.

Source: Tennessee Football Twitter.

Heads Up Braves Fans: The Future is Bright in Atlanta

In mid-March, Major League Baseball halted their Spring Training workouts to the outbreak of COVID-19, and fans were not allowed into the stadiums for the entire regular season.

In fact, a week into the season in late-July and early August, Major League Baseball was sitting on its proverbial heels due to multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 in Miami, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.

With the bulk of the positive tests coming out of Miami and St. Louis, league officials were contemplating the thought of shutting the season down even though it had literally just gotten started.

When the league reached an agreement with its clubs to play a 60-game regular-season schedule as opposed to the normal 162-game schedule in a non-pandemic year, we knew every game would matter that much more.

Winning streaks would seem longer than they were and would mean five times more than they would in a regular 162-game season. Losing streaks would seem to drag on longer than usual and every pitch mattered.

Even though the Atlanta Braves may have lost in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, there’s still a lot to be proud of when you look at the bigger picture.

This team won its first postseason series since 2001, advanced to the National League Championship Series, spent the final month and a half without ace Mike Soroka, missed outfield phenom Ronald Acuña Jr for two weeks twice due to a left wrist injury, lost four of five-man starting rotation, with Max Fried being the only projected starting pitcher left standing, and still won their division and won not just one but two postseason series.

This team isn’t done, they’re just getting started. For every minor setback there’s a major comeback. And with the young, raw talent of guys like Ronald Acuña Jr., Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Cristian Pache, and a healthy Mike Soroka, you can’t help but imagine just how good this team will be in the next few seasons with some of the best young talent in the game.

Hold your heads up Braves fans, the best is yet to come.

Pruitt Leads No. 14/12 Tennessee to Athens for Top 15 Showdown with No. 3 Georgia

For the first time since their October 7, 2006, No. 12 Tennessee and No. 3 Georgia will square off against each other as top 15 teams at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday in Athens. The then-No. 13 Vols bested the then-No. 10 Bulldogs, 51-33, in Sanford Stadium that day.

Saturday’s game will be available for viewing on CBS with Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst), and Jamie Erdahl (sideline) on the call.

Across the airwaves in Tennessee, Vol fans can listen to the game on their radios by tuning their radios to the Vol Network, available on WIVK-FM 107.7 and WNML-FM 99.1, where Bob Kesling (play-by-play), Tim Priest (analyst), Brent Hubbs (analyst), and Kasey Funderburg (sideline) will describe the action.

Tennessee is making its first appearance on CBS since November 17, 2018. This will mark the 50th all-time meeting between the Volunteers and Bulldogs, with Georgia holding a slim 24-23-2 edge in the series to this point. Tennessee will be seeking their first 3-0 overall start since 2016 and their first 3-0 start in conference play since 1998.

The Volunteers carry an eight-game winning streak and a six-game SEC win streak into Week 3. That mark is currently the second-longest in the country, the longest in the Southeastern Conference, and tied for the longest in the Power Five. It’s Tennessee’s second-longest winning streak since the 1998 national championship season. The Volunteers trail only Air Force (9) for the longest win streak in the nation.

The Volunteers have won nine of their last 10 games, and three straight SEC road games. The six-game conference winning streak is Tennessee’s longest since winning six in a row from October 31, 2015 to October 1, 2016.

Will Jeremy Pruitt and the Volunteers of Tennessee extend their winning streak to nine games on Saturday or will Kirby Smart and his Bulldogs have other plans?

Find out a 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.

Source: Tennessee Football Twitter.

The Final Curtain Call: New York Mets Legend Tom Seaver Passes Away at the Age of 75

For two decades, Tom Seaver had a rather imposing presence on Major League mounds all over this great country. Perhaps, no single player is more identified with one team than Tom Seaver is with the New York Mets. 

It goes without saying that George Thomas “Tom” Seaver was a fearless competitor on the diamond, and everything he did in his life, on the field or off, he did it with purpose and poise. Seaver helped turn baseball’s “lovable losers” into World Series champions in 1969, when the Mets captured their first World Series trophy behind the fiery Fresno, California native. 

During his 20-year career in the Major Leagues, Tom Seaver spent time with the New York Mets (1967-77, 1983), Cincinnati Reds, (1977-1982), Chicago White Sox (1984-1986), and the Boston Red Sox (1986). 

Seaver was 12-time All-Star, and finished his Cooperstown-caliber career with a record (311-205) with a 2.86 ERA, and 3,640 strikeouts in 4,783 innings pitched. 

Tom Seaver known as “Tom Terrific” or “The Franchise” started 647 games in his career, with 231 complete games, 61 shutouts, a 1.121 WHIP, one save, 1,521 earned runs, 1,390 walks, and a winning percentage of .603. 

Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson, who managed Seaver with the Cincinnati Reds once said “My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work.” 

On April 22, 1970, Seaver set a Major League record by striking out 19 San Diego Padres, 10-consecutive, in a game that the Mets would go on to win 2-1. 

From 1967-1977, “The Franchise” was selected to 10 All-Star teams, led the league in strikeouts five times, put together five 20-win seasons, threw five one-hitters, and won three Cy Young Awards. 

In 1978, after several near-misses during his career, Tom no-hit the Cardinals and in 1981 became the fifth player in Major League Baseball history to record 3,000 strikeouts. He was a member of National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 1992. 

Seaver officially retired from the game of baseball during the 1987 season. According to baseballhall.org, George Thomas “Tom” Seaver aka. “The Franchise” passed away, on August 31, 2020 from complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. 

In 1991, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which returned in 2012, leading to Bell’s palsy and memory loss. 

Rest in Peace Tom, you’ll never be forgotten.

Source: New York Mets Twitter

In Loving Memory of Paula Caray, 1946-2020

Saturday afternoon, the Braves family lost a treasured member when Paula Caray, the wife of longtime Braves broadcaster, Skip Caray, passed away after a brief illness.

Paula Caray moved to Atlanta with Skip in 1976, when he was added to the Braves broadcasting team, a position he held until his death in August of 2008.

While many of us knew and loved Skip, to know Skip and to love him, was to love Paula too. Because after all, behind every great man, is an even greater woman.

In addition to being the wife of a broadcaster, she was also the stepmom to a broadcaster and his siblings.

She was the stepmother to current Atlanta Braves broadcaster, Chip Caray, Josh Caray, Shayelyn Caray Woodbery, and Cindy Caray Hines.

Rest In Peace, Ms. Paula Caray, we love you, your life and legacy will never be forgotten.

Source: Twitter.

Where the Spirits of the Dead Come Out to Play: Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana

Whether you live in New Orleans, Louisiana, or not, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Crescent City’s oldest existent, active burial ground.

If not, allow me to introduce you to Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1. Located at 425 Basin Street within the historic French Quarter, it’s no secret that this 18th century graveyard is home to many spirits of early New Orleanians.

According to sources, Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, was established by Spanish royal decree, on August 14, 1789, making this rustic-looking cemetery 231 years old.

In those 231 years, many people have tried to test their fate by attempting to enter the eerie facade of Saint Louis No. 1 after dark as a way of trying to come in contact with the spirits that roam the land here.

This cemetery’s appearance radiates the illusions of days long gone. According to sources, the atmosphere surrounding this historic burial ground is deathly quiet.

When dusk begins to fall on this historic place of burial and night begins its reign of terror, this is when it is said that many of the grounds’ spirits come to life.

Enter if you dare.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Entrance Gate. Source: Flickr.

Resting Respect: Paying Visits to Some of the South’s Most Influential Figures

Perhaps you were watching my travels throughout this great State of Alabama this weekend on Facebook.

You may wonder what I was doing, you may also wonder what made me pay visits to the many statues and gravesites in multiple cities.

Well, since sports have been basically nonexistent since mid-March, I have come across a newfangled hobby, touring cemeteries; both virtually and physically to pay respects to those that are no longer here in bodily form, but rather in the presence of God.

On Saturday, I visited a statue dedicated to the memory of Booker T. Washington, a mid-19th-century and early-20th-century social reformer, who believed in hard work, and self-education.

On Sunday, Dad and I took a family friend with us to Mobile, Alabama, to visit multiple cemeteries with several early-Mobile notable figures.

Our first visit Sunday, was to the notoriously haunted, Church Street Graveyard, where the man who created a Mardi Gras Revival in 1866 and 1867, is buried.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Joseph Stillwell “Joe” Cain Jr. while in Church Street Graveyard, we saw the famous Boyington Oak that stands just outside the Northwest corner of the 19th-century New England churchyard-style cemetery atop the grave of Charles Robert Stuart Boyington, a mid-17th-century printer and gambler, whom moved to Mobile in search of a better life than the one he had experienced in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut.

Mr. Boyington, allegedly had become friends with Nathaniel Frost, whom owed him money from one of their poker games but refused to give Boyington the money.

As a result, Mr. Frost would be stabbed, robbed, and left for dead inside of the Church Street Graveyard.

Mr. Boyington would be framed as the suspect, taken into custody, and hanged in 1835. According to legend, his last words, as his feet dangled from a tree at Oakleigh, which is now historic landmark, were “A tree will grow from my heart to prove my innocence.”

After our stop to visit Alabama’s third-most haunted burial ground, the three of us made our way to the 120-acre Magnolia Cemetery just down the road, to pay respects to Confederate States Army General Braxton Bragg, whom I claim is my namesake. We also saw numerous graves of confederate soldiers.

Next, we travelled to the 19th-century, Saluda Hill Cemetery, in Spanish Fort, Alabama, to visit the grave of Zachariah Godbold, the only known Revolutionary War veteran buried in Baldwin County, Alabama.

Moral of the story, pay respects to those that came before anyway you can, you never know what you’ll run across in the process.

Church Street Graveyard sign.
Joe Cain grave, Church Street Graveyard.
Joe Cain and I in Church Street Graveyard.
The haunted Boyington Oak, Church Street Graveyard.
Confederate Monument, Magnolia Cemetery.
General Braxton Bragg and I.
Our Confederate Dead, Magnolia Cemetery
Zachariah Godbold, Revolutionary War veteran, Saluda Hill Cemetery, Spanish Fort, Alabama.
Booker T. Washington statue, Tuskegee University.

Tomahawk Chop: Why Are We Considering Removing Such a Harmless Storied Tradition

Around 2:45 Monday afternoon, I read from a credible source that the Atlanta Braves are considering removing one of their longest traditions; the Tomahawk Chop.

Here’s my take on it, why are even considering removing such a long-standing tradition? What’s it hurting?

For 22 years, as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been going to Braves games and honestly I can’t imagine going to a Braves game without there being a tomahawk chop.

For 22 years, I’ve done the tomahawk chop, whether it be at athletic events at my alma mater, or at a Braves game, not once have I thought it was offensive to anybody of any race.

Native Americans should look at it as an honor, because that’s exactly what it is and that way it’s meant to be.

When I have kids, I will take them to Braves games and yes, I will allow them to do the tomahawk chop. Just as I have done and will continue to do as long as God is willing to let me live.

Last year during the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the staff didn’t allow our fans to have foam tomahawks.

Why, you ask? Because somebody, somewhere complained about it being demeaning and offensive to the Native American race.

Whether we have the tomahawk chop from this point on or not, as for me and my house, we will continue to chop.

Source: WGHP.