Camden Courier-Post - May 8, 1980

Even Mother Nature sides with Phil Niekro


By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post


PHILADELPHIA – Everybody knows Phil Niekro leads a charmed life against the Phillies. Over the years the Atlanta righthander has taken particular delight in befuddling Phillie batters with his baffling knuckleball.


His lifetime record of 23-13 is second only to Tom Seaver's 25-11 against the Phils, who’ve managed to solve the mystery of his knuckler only once since August of 1977.


But nobody realized Niekro has connections in high places, contacts that reach all the way to the heavens. Nobody knew that Mother Nature takes a personal interest in Niekro's fortunes.


That certainly seemed to be the case last night when a persistent rain washed away the Phils game against the Braves in Veterans Stadium, and got Niekro off a 3-0 hook.


The Phils, who may well have broken the Niekro Hex when they snapped a seven-game losing streak against him last September, would like to have hung Niekro out to dry after run-scoring doubles by Bake McBride and Greg Gross gave them three in the first inning.


And that wasn't all we were going to score, Manager Dallas Green said later. "It was another one of those games where you know you're going to put points on the board. We don't have a lot of luck against him (Niekro), but he wasn't throwing good and we'd like to play the Braves now because they don't have (Bob) Horner or (Gary) Matthews in there."


Niekro, obviously, did not want to pitch against the Phillies without two of the National League's better bats behind him. So, he conjured a downpour just as the Phillies were coming up in the second.


That little trick delayed the game 2:19, but the Phils remained undaunted. What with the grounds crew barely loose, the Zamboni machines skimming the AstroTurf like huge, lumbering water bogs, and Executive Vice President Bill Giles promising clear skies, there seemed little chance Niekro would elude their grasp.


And, in fact, the game was continued. Phillies starter Larry Christenson worked nicely out of a two-on, no-out jam in the second and got through the third without incident Niekro didn't bother to call upon the rains to bail him out with two gone in the second, when Pete Rose singled, stole second and went to third on a throwing error by catcher Bruce Benedict Niekro merely induced Bake McBride into a ground ball.


But when Mike Schmidt opened the third with a single to center, Niekro drew the line, using his heavenly clout to once again open the clouds.


Niekro must have underestimated the resolve of Giles because, 20 minutes later, the Braves took the field. This time, though, the knuckleballer didn't even wait for Greg Luzinski to get comfortable in the batter's box. The rain began again in earnest home plate umpire Bob Engel spiking his mask in disgust.


What had begun as a promising home stand finale ended in weather only Jacques Cousteau could appreciate, the amps finally calling the game as the 76ers were taking the floor against the Lakers in Los Angeles. The game will be replayed as part of a twi-night double-header July 25 – if there is a July 25 in the strike-threatened sport.


"You got to give the umpires credit They did all they could," said Green in resignation. There’s only so many times they can keep running out there with Giles throwing smokescreens at them. Cripes! He had me looking for the sun to break out any minute."


Despite the fact Giles was unable to complete the deal that would have brought the sun to Philadelphia for a rainbow to be named later, there was a thread of a silver lining to be found.


Center fielder Garry Maddox, who sprained his ankle Sunday against the Dodgers, probably will be able to play tomorrow night when the Phils open an eight-game road trip in Cincinnati And second baseman Manny Trillo, who hasn't played since spraining an ankle April 19, was taken off the disabled list yesterday. Trillo was replaced on sick call by Luis Aguayo, who has a pulled thigh muscle.


"Manny is very close to being ready," said Green. "I could have pinchhit with him today without any fear of hurting him. I'm not saying I'll play him Friday. I'm just going to take one step at a time."


Avoiding puddles along the way, of course.

Very little progress made as baseball deadline nears


NEW YORK (AP) – The major issues of pensions and compensation for free agent signings were expected to be discussed at today's session of negotiations between the Major League Players Association and the owners' Player Relations Committee.


Progress was minimal at the talks yesterday, and even federal mediator Kenneth Moffett was beginning to sound pessimistic about the situation.


"We're getting closer to the deadline and there are still a lot of unresolved issues," he said.


The players have set a May 22 strike deadline, threatening to walk out the following day, just before the Memorial Day weekend unless a new basic agreement is reached by then.


Moffett said no progress was made yesterday, with most of the day spent discussing health and safety, the definition of a salary and other administrative matters.


Marvin Miller, executive director of the union, said management representatives suggested discussing the difficult compensation question near the end of today's meeting.


"Why should I bring up something that would be subtracting from what the players have?" he said. "As far as compensation, it's their issue."


Management wants teams signing top free agents to make replacement players from their rosters available to the teams losing those players.