Minnesota Twins 1987 World Series Profile: Joe Niekro

circa 1950: Pitcher Sundstrom's knuckleball, a deadly component to the Pottstown High school baseball team. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)
circa 1950: Pitcher Sundstrom's knuckleball, a deadly component to the Pottstown High school baseball team. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images) /

With the 30th anniversary celebration of the Minnesota Twins’ 1987 World Championship this year, we continue to profile the players!

The Minnesota Twins made the playoffs in 2017 after a long layoff, something that they did in 1987 before they won their first World Series championship in franchise history.

The Twins had a pitching staff that had a pair of elite starters at the top of the rotation, but behind those two, it was a mesh of pitchers that made starts. One of those passed away 11 years ago today, so it’s appropriate to remember him today.


Joe Niekro was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 7th round of the January 1966 draft, but he chose to return to school for the spring season, getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 3rd round of the June 1966 draft.

He was up to the major leagues in 1967 with the Cubs, and thus began a 22 year major league career with 8 organizations. Niekro was a “lesser” version of his brother, Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, a junkballer who utilized a knuckleball, but didn’t rely on it the way that his brother did. He also didn’t have near the same success.

Before 1987, Niekro had already accumulated 213 wins in his career and thrown almost 3,500 innings.

1987 Performances

Niekro opened the season with the New York Yankees. He had a solid start to the season with the Yankees, posting a 3.55 ERA over 8 starts and 50 2/3 IP, with a 19/30 BB/K and a 1.16 WHIP. That was enough to draw Mark Salas in exchange for Niekro in early June.

Niekro was hoped to be a veteran inning-eater behind co-aces Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven, but he struggled to keep runs off of the board with the Twins. He made 19 appearances, 18 of them starts, throwing 96 1/3 innings with a 6.26 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, and a 45/54 BB/K ratio. Probably his most memorable moment came when he was caught “doctoring” the ball.

Niekro did not pitch in the American League Championship Series against Detroit. In the World Series, Niekro only pitched one time, but it was a solid appearance, throwing 2 scoreless innings in the game 4 loss in St. Louis.

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Niekro was already 42 years old when he was traded to the Twins. He returned in 1988 to open the season as the 5th starter/swing man, but his performance was such that Niekro was released by the Twins on May 4th, 1988 with a 10.03 ERA in just 11 2/3 innings.

On this day in 2006, Niekro passed away in Tampa, Florida from a brain aneurysm he suffered the day before. His daughter created The Joe Niekro Foundation to support patients and families of those with brain aneurysms, AVMs, and hemorrhagic strokes. The organization has provided funding for research, education on risk factors, and assisted in funding treatment of these disorders – an excellent legacy for Niekro’s name to be on.

Next: Two Twins Gold Glove finalists

Niekro combined with his brother for 539 wins, the most combined wins of any brothers in major league history. When he appeared in the 1987 World Series, he set the record for the length of time between a player’s debut and his first appearance in the World Series. He was selected as The Sporting News’ pitcher of the year in 1979, when he finished 2nd in the Cy Young. Niekro also had his sole All-Star appearance in 1979, when he led the National League in wins with 21.

Niekro finished with a career 221-204 record over 3,584 1/3 innings. He had a career 3.59 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, an 8.3% walk rate, and an 11.5% strikeout rate.