6th Best All-Time Astros Starter
Joe Niekro by Cody Poage
Not many pitchers can ride a knuckleball to major league success. After all, the knuckleball is one of the most difficult pitches to master. But most pitchers who tried weren’t like the late Joe Niekro.
Even though he spent time with seven different franchises, Niekro is mostly known for his success with the Astros. After stops with the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, and Atlanta Braves to start his career, the right-hander eventually found himself in Houston after the team purchased his contract for just $35,000.
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From the time of his acquisition in 1975 to 1977, Niekro mostly found himself pitching out of the bullpen. But that all changed in 1978 when the Astros decided to make his transition from reliever to starter. From that point on, Niekro helped lead the Astros to the team’s first sustained run of relevance.
Over the course of his Astros career, most notably as his time as a starter from 1978-85, Niekro provided the team with many great seasons and memories. He made the All-Star team in 1979, and also provided the Astros with the franchise’s first 20-game winner in the same year. That outstanding season was followed up by another 20-win season in 1980.
But arguably the most notable moment of Niekro’s career came in 1980 when he led the Astros to their first playoff appearance after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-1 in a one-game playoff. Niekro held the Dodgers to just one run and six hits over nine masterful innings. He also pitched a gem in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies, which the Astros were victorious by a score of 1-0.
The all-time wins leader in franchise history (144) saw his Houston career end in 1985 after being traded to the New York Yankees midseason. He later finished his career with the Minnesota Twins. But in Astros history, he finished appeared in 302 starts and finished with a 3.21 ERA/3.61 FIP and 20.2 WAR. But the most impressive fact about Niekro throughout his Astros career was his remarkable 82 complete games and 21 shutouts while he was a starter.
Unfortunately, Joe Niekro passed away on October 27, 2006, shortly before his 62nd birthday. But we continue to carry on his memory in part because of the great seasons he had as a member of the Houston Astros. And I believe we can all agree that Niekro was truly one of the best pitchers that put on the Astros uniform.
Next: 5th Best All-Time Astros Starter