As it always seems, honors don't always come in timely fashion.
Joe Niekro, the winningest pitcher in Houston Astros' history, never had his number retired by that organization in his lifetime.
Houston should correct that oversight, now, to honor Joe's memory. Certainly the recognition would provide some semblence of comfort to Joe's widow, Debbie, their young son, J.J., and his two grown children, Lance and Natalie.
No one makes the argument better than Dennis Orlandini of Irvington, N.J., who wrote, in part, in a comment to this blog:
Let's not forget that Joe Niekro, while under the shadow of his Hall Of Fame brother, Phil, had some great moments and one "Hall Of Fame" moment that most pitchers would give their souls for.
Those 144 franchise leading wins, could have been a much higher total if Houston wasn't such a weak hitting team and the pitchers had to shoulder most of the load.
His 221 overall wins and .520 winning percentage would likewise have improved if the Astros had a more fearsome lineup.
His greatest moment came at the end of his second consecutive 20- win season.
The Dodgers finished the season with Houston in a head-to head battle between the top two teams in the NL West in 1980. Houston needed just one win to clinch the division. However Los Angeles swept the series to force a playoff. The Dodgers had all the momentum going to steal the division title, except for one thing. It was Little Knucksie's turn in the rotation.
Niekro's knuckleball fluttered that day and he mixed in other pitches to keep the Dodgers off balance. From the first or second inning onward it became apparent that the Dodgers batters were going to get nowhere with Niekro that day.
Joe went the distance, the Astros got some timely hitting and I believe the final score was Houston 7, LA 1. Niekro had turned back the tide of the Dodgers late season comeback, and the Astros had their first championship in franchise history.
Not many pitchers could have done what Niekro did that day - that was his career's absolute pinnacle, a shining moment in a pretty darn good career that had lots of other highlights.
Thanks for the memories, Dennis - and the foundation of a campaign the Astros would do well to recognize and act upon.