As we approach another baseball and fishing season, I can’t help but have some warm thoughts of an old friend who has been a credit to both sports. Few people who ever played the game deserved being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown more than Phil Niekro, and any fisherman who ever had the pleasure of his company in a bass boat would have nothing but good things to say about this fine man.
I’ve had the distinct honor to have known Phil Niekro as both a friend and fisherman for more than twenty years, and over that period, regardless of fame or accomplishments, he has never changed. He always takes time to give anyone a smile, sign an autograph, or just pitch in to help any worthy cause.
I remember going to Fulton County Stadium when it was so empty that you could sit anywhere you wanted, but that never mattered to Phil. He pitched his heart out for the fans who were there, held his head up high, and gave class to a team that otherwise would have been the laughing stock of the National League.
Niekro with Lanier Stripers Even when he was released by the Braves, before he had the chance to win his 300th game, he handled that insult with class. Instead of bad mouthing the organization, he left quietly, went to the New York Yankees, and put together two great winning seasons.
My involvement in fishing and promotional efforts over the years has afforded me the opportunity to meet many of the “greats” and “so called-greats” of baseball and other sports. One soon finds that many are so into themselves and their accomplishments that they lose sight of where they came from, and just how special it was to have played this “little boy’s game” at the major league level. Phil Niekro, however, does not fit into that category. In my opinion, he belongs in a special place with those who have given so much back to the fans and the game like Ted Williams, Roy Campenella, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Dale Murphy, and Stan Musial.
As a fisherman, Knucksie never forgot the lessons he learned from his Dad during his formative years in Ohio. He has always treated our sport and pastime with as much reverence and respect as he did the game of baseball. His natural drive to learn as much as possible and be the best has made him one of the better bass and striper fishermen on Lake Lanier. As with baseball, however, he has never been greedy or secretive with what he has learned. He is always ready to help any other angler to become better, and his sons have also become extremely good fishermen.
I could go on and on about this great guy, and probably even tell a few stories that Phil wouldn’t appreciate me sharing with the general public, but by now, Knucksie would be asking me to end the accolades and get on with the fishing!
Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and has been inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. He can be reached at 770-289-1543, JFish51@aol.com, or at his web site: www.fishinglanier.com