Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, famous for signature knuckleball, dies at 81

Phil Niekro, the pitcher who fooled generations of batters with his famous fist hump and had a career in the Hall of Fame, died in his sleep on Saturday night after a long fight against cancer, announced the Atlanta Braves Sunday. He was 81 years old.

Niekro, which was included in the Hall of Fame in 1997, was one of the most productive and durable baseball pitchers. His butterfly toss helped him win 318 games in a career that spanned 24 seasons, including 20 years with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.

We are broken by the death of our dear friend Phil Niekro, said Brave in a prepared statement. Knucksie was woven into the fabric of the Braves, first in Milwaukee, then in Atlanta. Phil has defeated the fighters in the field and has always been the first to join our social events. During these social and fan events he treated the fans as if they were old friends.

He has been a constant presence in our club, at our alumni events and throughout Bravesland, and we will always be grateful to him for being such an important part of our organisation.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Nancy, his sons Philip, John and Michael and his two grandchildren Chase and Emma.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Phil Niekro has achieved 318 career victories, while posting an ERA of 3.35 with 3,342 outs. He is ranked fourth in the history of baseball in terms of innings thrown, eleventh in terms of outs and sixteenth in terms of wins. In 1997 he was admitted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Focus on sports/images of Getty

As with many jugs, age was not an obstacle for Niekro. He won 121 victories after his 40th – a major league record – and threw until his 48th. At the end of 1987, the last season, Niekro ranked 10th in the major leagues based on the number of seasons played. Only Cy Young, Pad Galvin and Walter Johnson ran more runs than Nico 5,404. No pitcher has spent more time at the premier league mound since the time of the dead ball.

Phil Niekro was one of the most remarkable and memorable pitchers of his generation, said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in a prepared statement. No pitcher has thrown more than 5,404 innings in Phil’s last century. His punch led him to five all-star selections, three 20-game seasons with the Atlanta Braves, a 300-game club, and finally to Cooperstown.

But even more than his brand launch and longevity, Phil will be remembered as one of the smartest people in our game. He always represented his sport in an exceptional way and he will be greatly missed. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my condolences to Phil’s family and friends and to the many fans he has won in our national pastime over the course of his life.

The symbol of the success and longevity of Niekro’s career is the knuckleball, that quirky drifter who not only hits and catches, but also pitchers who never know how a pitch will dance on the board without spinning.

Niekro was the king of cooling balls, with a first place in victories and eliminations (3,442). Tom Candiotti, a remarkable hitter of his time and former Niekro teammate with the Cleveland Indians in 1986, said talking to Naxey was the same as talking to Thomas Edison about light bulbs.

If a stay in the big league can be due to a fist, the same can be said of Niekro’s early efforts to reach the big league. Catchers and bewildered managers looking past balls and wild fields have often been quoted to explain Niekro’s long stay in the minor league system of the Braves. It was signed in 1958, but it took almost ten years before it came into force. Yet the Kulakler was everything Niekro believed in.

I never knew how to throw a fastball, I never learned how to throw a curveball, a slider, a split-finger, whatever they throw these days, he said. I was once a jug.

In 1964, Niekro called for the first time from Milwaukee and searched between the majors and the minors, a pitcher trying to find a niche and a willing receiver. He found both in 1967 when he was paired with Bob Walker, a reserve veteran who had a lot of wisdom and advice.

Wack told me that if I ever became a winner, I would have to throw a fist ball all the time and he tries to catch it, Niekro said. I led the ERA championship [1.87] and he led the championship in terms of passing yards.

Wacker admitted he was after him a lot.

Catching Niekro’s ball was great, says Wacker, who is now in the Hall of Fame. I have many important people to meet. They’re all on home plate.

In 1969 Niekro was a star. His 23 victories this season earned him second place in the National League Cy Young Award vote. It would live in the killer’s mind for another two decades. He said there aren’t many batters who like to play knuckle balls against pitchers. They may not scare them, but they certainly think about it before they put them in the box.

Trying to beat Phil Niekro is like trying to eat jelly bears with chopsticks, said the former Yankees All-Star Bobby Mercer.

He’s just wasting your time with that fist ball, said Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks. He’s flying, diving and jumping around like crazy, and you can’t hit him.

He smiles in your face as he walks past you, said former outfielder Rick Monday.

Born on the 1st. April 1939 in Blaine, Ohio, Niekro was the proud descendant of a family dynasty. Part-time coach and pitcher Phil Niekro Sr. dominated the kneeckleballer after a hand injury that threatened to end his playing days. He taught his sons, Phil Jr. and Joe, to pitch when they were young. Phil and Joe, known as Knucksie and Little Knucksie, have learned a lot. They have spent a total of 46 major seasons of the League on the field, earned six All-Star spots and, perhaps their greatest pride, recruited 539 victories.

Their winning total remains the Major League record for siblings, as they have surpassed another sibling combination with the Hall of Famer: Gaylord and Jim Perry (529 victories in total).

Although Phil and Joe Niekro played together twice, with the Braves in 1973-74 and the Yankees in 1985, the two best-known friends were more like friendly rivals. In 1979, Phil, who threw for the Braves, and Joe each gave up 21 National League victories for the Astros. They fought as rivals, Joe beat his older brother 5-4 in his career. This lead was made possible by Phil’s winning home run that he handed over to Joe, Joe’s only home run in his 22-year career.

When Phil Niekro made his 300th appearance… The game was won, Joe was by his side and it was perhaps the most unique victory in his older brother’s career. It was the sixth. October 1985, the last day of the season. The day before, the Yankees had missed the preseason by losing in Toronto. Coach Billy Martin gave the pitching duties to Joe Niekro and the ball to Phil Niekro in the final. Phil, who tried to climb to 300th place for the fifth time, came in at the bottom of ninth place and silenced the jays with curve balls, sliders, fast balls and shark balls – everything but shark balls.

He later said that he wanted to prove that he was a jug and not just a fist jar. With two outs in the ninth, the emotion finally took over. Against Jeff Burrows, an old friend and former teammate of the Braves, Phil Niekro threw four pitches – the last three. Burroughs eliminated the Yankees in an 8-0 victory and Niekro achieved his own goal.

I thought if there was a way to make my 300th. To win the match by hitting a batter and then with the pitch that won the first match for me, Niekro said.

Phil Niekro’s time as a player ended in 1987, but he put on another jersey as manager of the Colorado Silver Bullets women’s team (1994-1997). His pitching coach? Joe Niekro.

Phil Niekro was predeceased by Joe Niekro, who suffered a fatal brain aneurysm in 2006.

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