If you ever had a coach or a dad or a grand dad who dragged his stiff carcass to the “mound” after work or school or an afternoon at the fishin’ hole just to toss you some baseballs, then the 1988 Score Phil Niekro card will probably give you flashbacks …

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And, heck, if you — now a coach or dad or grand dad or gimpy mom or whatever yourself — drag your carcass out into the side yard to pitch a few to your own budding slugger, well, this card probably makes you self-conscious.

Is that really the way I look out there?

We should all be so lucky.

Because, even though 48-year-old Niekro has a paunch and the beginnings of the angular frailty our limbs face without copious intervention as we step into the golden years, Knucksie is on a major league mound, wearing a major league uniform, something he had been doing for 24 seasons through 1987.

See here …

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It had been a long road, traveled mostly with the (Milwaukee and ) Atlanta Braves, and one that eventually led him to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

That’s an amazing feat for anyone, of course, made all the more so by the fact that Niekro didn’t record his first victory in the majors until more than a month after his 26th birthday.

That he eventually parlayed that late start into 318 wins is a minor diamond miracle.

And that Score card?

Well, it’s a minor hobby miracle in its own right.

Because, after the Cleveland Indians, and then the Toronto Blue Jays released Niekro during the 1987 season, the writing was on the wall — his career was all but done.

And it was, but …

The Braves were going nowhere fast that September, and there had always been a sense of unfinished business following Atlanta parting ways with their mound legend after the 1983 season.

They wanted him to retire, he wanted to pitch on and go for broke (300 Ws, that is).

As it turned out, Niekro turned in three solid seasons for the Yankees and Indians before the wheels sort of fell off in ‘87, and he cruised past 300 in the process.

But, with nothing for either side to lose, Atlanta and Knucksie came together on a reunion that brought the righty back “home” to the team where he belonged, stalking the mound for the Braves one last time.

Score’s photographer was there to capture the moment, and Score’s checklist makers said to heck with tradition … even though everyone knew Niekro is done, making him untouchable for the other card makers.

And the next year, we had a true Phil Niekro career-capper card, the only one of its kind. And, maybe, just enough feel-good equity to make a mostly soulless set worth another look.

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That 1988 Score card wasn’t the first one where Niekro looked, um, distinguished. We take a dive into the phenomenon over on YouTube.

1988 Topps - #154 Jeff Stone

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