Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, who fooled many Major League Baseball hitters with his knuckleball, died on Saturday night. He was 81.
The Atlanta Braves, with whom Niekro spent a majority of his major-league career, announced Niekro’s death on Sunday. He died after battling cancer.
“We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend, Phil Niekro,” the Braves said in a 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 our community activities.
“It was during those community and fan activities where he would communicate with fans as if they were long-lost friends,” the statement continues.
“He was a constant presence over the years, in our clubhouse, our alumni activities, and throughout Braves Country and we will be forever grateful for him being such an important part of our organization.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Nancy, sons Philip, John, and Michael, and his two grandchildren Chase and Emma.”
Manfred Offers Condolences After Phil Niekro Death
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred offered words of condolence upon hearing of Niekro’s death.
“Phil Niekro was one of the most distinctive and memorable pitchers of his generation,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred. “In the last century, no pitcher threw more than Phil’s 5,404 innings. His knuckleball led him to five All-Star selections, three 20-win seasons for the Atlanta Braves, the 300-win club, and ultimately, to Cooperstown.
“But even more than his signature pitch and trademark durability, Phil will be remembered as one of our game’s most genial people,” Manfred said. “He always represented his sport extraordinarily well, and he will be deeply missed. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my condolences to Phil’s family, friends, and the many fans he earned throughout his life in our National Pastime.”
In a career spanning 24 seasons, Niekro posted a 318-274 win-loss record with a 3.35 earned-run average.
He struck out 3,342 batters. Niekro also threw 226 wild pitches, most of those coming on catchers unable to nab his knuckleball.
Phil’s younger brother, Joe Niekro, was a major-league pitcher in his own right. They both pitched in the majors at the same time throughout their careers.