Knuckleball pitcher and Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro died in his sleep December 26, 2020 in his Atlanta suburb home of Flowery Branch as a result of cancer at the age of 81.
Known to the baseball world as Knucksie, Niekro threw the ball that baffled everyone on the field…including himself. Once he let the ball go, no one knew where it would land.
This has been a tough year for Baseball Hall of Fame players, Niekro is the seventh Hall of Famer to die this year; following Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver.
A young man’s sport, Phil Niekro outlasted many of his fellow team mates and pitchers; pitching well into his 40’s. Finally retiring at 48 as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Niekro after winning a total of 318 games over 24 years and making a trip to the annual All Star game five times. Niekro also pitched for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays – all American League teams who uses a designated hitter for the pitcher.
While pitchers are best known for throwing the ball, Niekro earned five Gold Gloves during his career and hit seven home runs and had 109 RBI’s.
Niekro notched win number 300 in 1985 while pitching for the New York Yankees against the Toronto Blue Jays with an 8-0 shutout.
He made his Major League debut in 1964 with the then Milwaukee Braves – they moved to Atlanta in 1966. Niekro became a starter for the Braves in 1967 and finished the season with a National League leading ERA of 1.87 and a record of eleven wins and nine losses.
Along with brother Joe, the Niekro’s hold the record for the most wins by siblings in the Major Leagues with a total of 539 wins.
His other accomplishments include 245 complete games, the Lou Gehrig Award, the Roberto Clemente Award, and the Brian Picolo Award.
Philip Henry Niekro was born on April 1, 1939 in Blaine, Ohio to a coal miner pitcher father. Learning the knuckleball form his father, young Phil never learned to throw any other pitch.
Predeceased by his brother Joe, Niekro is survived by his wife Nancy; children Philip, John, and Michael; and grandchildren Chase and Emma.
feature photo credit: By Unknown author – New York Yankees via tradingcarddb.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75158182