Sam's Club to bring 'Knucksie' to McDonough

An Atlanta Braves baseball legend is coming to Henry County, as part of a local retail store's efforts to show gratitude to its customers.

Phil Niekro, a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, will be at Sam's Club, next Thursday, July 27, from 6 p.m., to 8 p.m., to sign autographs. The store is located at 1765 Jonesboro Road, in McDonough.

Niekro's visit, which Sam's Club is coordinating with General Mills, is being promoted in conjunction with Member Appreciation Day at the store, according to Rob Kremer, public relations director for Leader Enterprises, a firm which promotes Sam's Club.

Niekro, historically, has been a kind of favorite son in the Southern Crescent area, even though he was born in Blaine, Ohio. He was a member of the Atlanta Braves, from 1966, to 1983, and in 1987.

"He will sign anything you bring — a baseball, baseball bat, a jersey, anything," said Kremer. "Basically, he's coming to meet and greet the community."

Sam's Club is also offering a unique opportunity for readers of the Henry Daily Herald, as part of Niekro's appearance at the store, in the form of a "Break the Line" pass for a reader, and a guest.

"The pass enables the winner and a guest to go straight to the front of the line to meet Phil, upon their arrival at Sam's Club," Kremer said. "Upon their arrival at the event, we will verify their information and usher them to the front of the line," Kremer added.

Niekro was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame baseball writers in 1997, according to the entity's web site. His knuckleball propelled him into stardom among fans and his fellow players. In an era of power pitchers, Niekro realized success with a pitch that fluttered to, and across, the plate for a strike, but after that, it was uncertain whether the ball would land in the oversized mitts worn catchers, or someplace near the backstop.

"Trying to hit him was like trying to eat Jello with chopsticks," former player BobMurcer once said of Niekro's knuckleball.

"It actually giggles at you as it goes by," Rick Monday once said of the pitch that helped put Niekro in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Knucksie twice led the National League in wins and propelled Atlanta to the National League West title in 1969, when he recorded 23 victories, 21 complete games and a 2.57 ERA. A five-time All-Star, he no-hit the Padres on Aug. 5, 1973, and later managed the all-women Colorado Silver Bullets baseball team.

Besides the Atlanta Braves, Niekro's tenure included a stint with the Milwaukee Braves (1964-1965), the New York Yankees (1984-1985), the Cleveland Indians (1986-1987), and the Toronto Blue Jays (1987).

Niekro's cumulative statistics, after appearing in 864 games over 5,403 innings, were an overall earned run average of 3.35, 318 wins, and 274 loses. He recorded 3,342 strikeouts and 1,809 walks. He even recorded 10 saves, according to baseball records.

"Niekro pitched for the Braves franchise during 20 seasons of his 24-year career," Kremer added. "He was nicknamed ‘Knucksie' because of his unique ability to master the knuckleball pitch. In the Atlanta area, he is well-known for his loyalty to the team and his charitable contributions to many Atlanta charities."

Brandon Smith, Sam's Club manager of the McDonough location, encourages Niekro fans to come to the store. "This event is our way of thanking the community for their continued patronage of our club," said Smith. "We are excited, and look forward to seeing all the smiling faces of McDonough and surrounding communities."

To reach Sam's Club, call (770) 914-0488.