LANSING, OH (WTRF) — The baseball world, along with many here in the Ohio Valley, are mourning the loss of a true legend. Former Lansing native, and Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro lost his battle with cancer this past weekend. Some long-time friends tell 7NEWS that while Niekro may have left the Ohio Valley….the Ohio Valley never left him.
Phil Niekro was born in Blaine Ohio, April 1st 1939. The son of Phil Sr. and Ivy Niekro, he grew up just down the road in Lansing. His father was a semi-pro pitcher, who taught his son to throw the knuckleball at a young age.
Phil would practice the pitch by throwing lumps of coal in the families back yard. It was that pitch that would frustrate major league hitters for over two decades. He was given the nickname ‘Knucksie,’ and would go on to win over 300 major league games.
His close friends say his accomplishments on the field are impressive his kindness, generosity off the field are even more remarkable. They say no matter where he played he always considered the Ohio Valley his true home.
Phil was a giver. He cared about his family and friends and the Ohio Valley especially. When he came back for the 22 golf tournaments we had, he made it back for twenty. We would come through the tunnel he would say ‘I’m home. I’m back home in Lansing and Bridgeport.’ Couldn’t wait to see his old friends and new ones too. He loved to be part of the Ohio Valley.Gordie Longshaw, Long-time Friend
Gordie Longshaw is a long time friend of the Niekro family. He has followed Phil’s career from the very beginning , traveling all over the country to various games often as Neikro’s guest .
Longshaw tells endless stories of Niekro’s generosity and giving nature but also say Phil had quite the sense of humor.
I remember going to Cleveland with Phil’s dad and my dad. He was very nice and special to my father, Walter. So we are sitting having breakfast and people are coming over and saying, ‘Aren’t you Phil Niekro’ and someone says ..’ Isn’t that Yogi Berra and my dad says ‘No, I’m not Yogi Berra.’ And Phil says ‘Come on, Yogi. I sighed autographs. You gotta sign.’
…So my dad signed as Yogi Berra. So, he (Phil) would do pranks like that.Gordie Longshaw, Long-time Friend
Marty Gould first met Niekro at the Hall of Fame Inauguration Ceremony, in 1997. Later became his golf partner at the Niekro scramble for nearly 10 yeas.
He says that despite all of the fanfare and activity, Niekro’s priority on his special day was his home town family and friends.
He came right to the home town crew. We came up on the bus and he came up to us and was right in the center of our picture. We all got a picture with him.
With all those people he had to see, that’s who he wanted to be around.Marty Gould. Nirkro friend
Signs and tributes can be seen all over the Bridgeport and Lansing area. The baseball diamond at his Alma Mater bears the name of Phil and his brother Joe.
They will serve as a reminder for generations to come, of a true hometown hero.