Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Remembering Joe Niekro

Joe and Claire, 1987, during Twins-Cardinals World Series

Joe (left) and Phil Niekro in Cleveland during the 1987n season

Joe and Phil in their short time together with the Yankees

Joe and son, Lance, in 1987 Twins' World Series victory parade

Rest in Peace, Little Knucksie

Joe Niekro (left) and brother, Phil, in 1987
How do you get your arms around a loss like the one suffered Friday when Joe Niekro died from a brain aneurysm?

Joe's death, at age 61, is simply crushing, not only to his family, his friends and to baseball, but to this reporter. Because Joe - Little Knucksie, embodied everything good about the people we cover.

Joe didn't pander to us. He merely thought it right, and professional, to honor the working relationship between players and the reporters who cover them. And because he could do that, he relaxed through a rewarding career, one that was as fun to cover as he obviously had fun playing.

By doing so, he helped make livable a road traveled by this reporter because, in a male-dominated sport like baseball, that road was and is often lonely and uncertain.

Little Knucksie, like his brother, Hall of Famer Phil, got that. And they realized that just by being humane, understanding and cooperative, they remained always the gentlemenly souls and genuinely good people that their parents raised.

Joe, one of the true cards I've ever covered, never took himself too seriously. He and Phil not only left in their wake over 500 victories, but 5 million laughs and as many irreplacable memories.

Joe never adopted the officious attitude that it was somehow beneath him to cooperate. He knew it didn't cost him anything to simply be honest, available and civil, not matter the circumstances. And, as evidence that genes count, what he learned from Phil he handed down to his son, Lance, a personable young first baseman with the San Francisco Giants.

That Joe treated all members of the media with respect made him special. In the end, it also made him a friend, one I cherished long after he stopped pitching. One I will miss and mourn.

I have to go, now, Little Knucksie. Because, for some reason, the screen is too blurry to see.

Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace.