Phil Niekro, one of baseball’s greatest knuckleball pitchers, who rode a baffling, fluttering pitch to the Hall of Fame in a long career that lasted until he was 48, died Dec. 26 at age 81. The Atlanta Braves made the announcement on Sunday.
“We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend, Phil Niekro,” the Braves said in their statement. ‘Knucksie’ was woven into the Braves fabric, first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. Phil baffled batters on the field and later was always the first to join in community activities. It was during those community and fan activities where he would communicate with fans as if they were long lost friends.”
Known by the nickname “Knucksie,” Niekro pitched 21 of his 24 seasons with the Braves. For two decades Niekro anchored the Braves’ starting rotation in both Milwaukee and Atlanta. Niekro’s 740 games pitched in a Braves uniform is still the franchise record.
Over his major league career, he won 318 games, lost 274 and had a 3.35 earned run average. He struck out 3,342 batters, which places him eighth on the all-time list. His 24-year career spanned from 1964 to 1987, and he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Niekro is survived by his wife Nancy, sons Philip, John, and Michael, and his two grandchildren, Chase and Emma.
Phil Niekro was a great pitcher and person and will be missed by family, friends, and fans. RIP.