If you lay out all the Phil Niekro baseball cards ever issued, you’ll see his evolution from fresh-faced prospect to grizzled, granddad-ly future Hall of Famer.

It’s the same transformation you see with most longtime players, but it’s all exaggerated in Niekro’s case …

Even though he got a late start in the Majors, the Braves legend is still fresh-faced in those early cards.

He was already in his 30s, though, by the time he reached superstardom, so collectors spent most of his career watching gray hair become grayer, and that funky knuckleballer’s motion become stiffer.

But, seeing as how Niekro pitched into the late 1980s, and for, like, centuries, he appeared on a ton of baseball cards.

Too many to run through in any one blog post.

What we can run through, though, are all of the Phil Niekro baseball cards from the 1960s, when he was an up-and-comer, and when no one really knew he was a multi-generational phenomenon in the making.

So let’s do it, starting with …

1962-1965 Jay Publishing Phil “Nierko”

1962-1965 Jay Publishing Phil Niekro

Jay Publishing produced 12-card picture packs for a number of Major League teams from 1958 through 1965, with a switch from san serif to serif font breaking the run in two.

Ol’ Phil “Nierko” made his appearance with the Milwaukee Braves here in the Type 2 cards, and you gotta figure he showed up near the end of the run considering he didn’t debut in the Majors until 1964.

The knuckler is coming at you in brilliant black-and-white on this 5″ x 7″ card, complete with a tractor in the background.

And a misspelling.

Classic hobby fare, right there.

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1964 Topps Braves Rookies (w/Phil Roof) Phil Niekro (#541)

1964 Topps Phil Niekro

I suppose you could call this one the “Phils” Rookies seeing as how … you know … both guys were named “Phil.”

Seemed the Braves were hedging their bets, hoping at least one of the Phils would pay off. Or maybe it was Topps who were hedging their bets.

Either way, both of them featured Phil Niekro and Phil Roof, though the former didn’t exhaust his rookie status until 1965.

And the latter hung onto his rookie-ness until 1966, by which time he was with the Kansas City A’s.

Roof did OK, though, crafting 15-year Big League career that normally would have given him counting supremacy over his cardboard partner.

Who could have known Niekro would tack on nearly another decade to his coulda-been battery mate’s tally?

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1965 Topps Braves Rookies (w/Clay Carroll) Phil Niekro (#461)

1965 Topps Braves Rookies Clay Carroll, Phil Niekro

So, this would have been a more conventional two-fer rookie card had Niekro not already scored an RC the year before.

But at least Carroll was a cardboard virgin!

Carroll would go on to lead the National League with 73 appearances in 1966, the same season Topps featured him on that exquisite card that foreshadowed Jack Torrance in The Shining.

Atlanta traded Carroll to the Cincinnati Reds halfway through the 1968 season, and he’d end up throwing a lot of games for them, too, and tasting a lot of post-season nectar.

Niekro ended up pitching forever, and got just a couple of light October snacks, in 1969 and in 1982.

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1966 Topps Phil Niekro (#28)

1966 Topps Phil Niekro

Finally! At the age of 71, Phil Niekro finally got his first solo card in the 1966 Topps set.

OK, so he wasn’t 71, and he actually looked sorta young on this card. Hopefully, Braves fans and collectors were able to fully appreciate the moment, because middle age would set in all too soon.

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1967 Topps Phil Niekro (#456)

1967 Topps Phil Niekro


So middle age didn’t come to Niekro in 1967, either, but his first real taste of Big League success did — he led the National League with a 1.87 ERA and a 179 ERA+, because ERA+ was really big stuff in the late 1960s.

Oh yeah … Niekro also led the circuit with 19 wild pitches. That probably worked to his advantage, because I’ll bet it hurts to get hit by an MLB knuckleball, no matter how much crap those dudes take for their fluff speeds.

While he was on the mound hammering stuff down (flutteringly), collectors were pulling this nifty 1967 Topps Niekro card from packs.

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1968 Dexter Press Postcards Phil Niekro

1968 Dexter Press Postcards Phil Niekro

Dexter Press was once the maker of fine postcards, with subjects ranging from the World’s Fair to a Crazy Horse scale model to West Nyack, New York.

And, from 1966-68, they made baseball cards (postcards) that were tied to Coca-Cola giveaways in some way.

These things were downright gorgeous, too.

To my eyes, Niekro is starting to look a bit peaked around the eyes, hinting at the old dude to come, but he’s beautiful, too, with his arms over his head against a blue sky on his 1968 Dexter Press card.

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1968 Topps NL ERA Leaders (Jim Bunning/Chris Short) Phil Niekro (#7)

1968 Topps NL ERA Leaders Jim Bunning, Chris Short, Phil Niekro

This card was Niekro’s reward for winning that ERA title in 1967 (the Dexter Press piece was a nice perk, too).

Niekro doesn’t just appear on the NL ERA leaders card with Hall of Famer Jim Bunning and his Phillies (Phils?) teammate Chris Short, though … no, Niekro is the headliner.

Take that, Senator!

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1968 Topps Phil Niekro (#257)

1968 Topps Phil Niekro

Of course, Niekro got his own burlap-bordered card in the 1968 Topps set, a closer-up version of the Dexter shot, sort of.

I mean, he has his hands over his head, at least.

Cutoff sleeves instead of a warm-up jacket under his Braves jersey this time, and he doesn’t have his Michael Douglas working quite as well as he did on that Dexter Press card.

Still, a classic 1960s card of a budding star.

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1969 Milton Bradley Phil Niekro

1969 Milton Bradley Phil Niekro

As black-and-white Phil Niekro cards from the 1960s go, this one comes in a shade or three below the Jay Publishing entry that led off our list.

But the Milton Bradley cards are pretty neat considering they came as part of an actual game that let you play baseball right there on your tabletop, and that there are 296 cards in the set.

This Niekro number is just a head shot, and you’ll usually find it with perforation marks around the edges since the cards were all sheeted up as part of the game.

Cool stuff, if not all that pretty.

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1969 MLB Photostamps Phil Niekro

1969 MLB Photostamps Phil Niekro

In both 1968 and 1969 the Major League Baseball Players Association issued stamps and an accompanying album of 216 players — that’s nine for each of the 24 Major League teams.

Originally issued in sheets, most of the singles you’ll find today were at some point cut by hand (and, presumably, scissors) from their sticky-paper brethren.

The Niekro stamp features a full color shot, showing Niekro with his hands over his head and wearing a warmup jacket under his Braves jersey.

Hmmmm …. sounds familiar.

And looks familiar, too, if you’ve ever seen Niekro’s 1968 Dexter Press card (as in, above).

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1969 Topps Phil Niekro (#355)

1969 Topps Phil Niekro

To round out Niekro’s first decade in the Major Leagues, Topps rolled out this classic baseball pose as part of their 1969 set.

Here we see old Phil, entering his age-30 season already, following through with his mouth open. Looks like he’s jawing at some whippersnapper to me, but Niekro never really struck me as that type.

What do I know. though?

Well … I do know Niekro was on the cusp of his first 20-win season, as he went 23-13 with a 2.56 ERA to help the Braves win the first-ever National League West crown.

I also know he got sorta lit up in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Mets and Tom Seaver, giving up nine runs in eight innings, though only four of them earned.

That would be Niekro’s only playoff appearance until 1982, when he went six innings in a Game 2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (Gene Garber took the L).

Atlanta was swept out of the post-season both years, and Niekro never saw October baseball again.

His 1969 Topps card is still a beaut, though.

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