Braves legend Phil Niekro has passed away at age 81.
The MLB has had its fair share of tragedy this year, as six Hall of Fame players, including Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, and Bob Gibson, died over the course 2020. Cooperstown was forced to confirm that yet another Hall of Famer has passed away, this time a knuckleball master who was one of the best pitchers in the game for over 20 years.
The MLB Hall of Fame confirmed that Phil Niekro, who was inducted into the Hall in 1997 after one of the longest careers in MLB history, passed away overnight at the age of 81.
Master of the knuckleball and a great mentor, leader and friend, Hall of Famer and @braves legend Phil Niekro passed away overnight at the age of 81. https://t.co/aj7uScYnuy pic.twitter.com/F1GmX9Yb1n
— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) December 27, 2020
Phil Niekro is the greatest knuckleball pitcher of all time
Niekro pitched for 24 seasons, most of which came with his beloved Atlanta Braves. After bursting on the scene with a 1.87 ERA in 1967, Niekro would kick-start a 15-year period in which he posted a 3.18 ERA, was named an All-Star five times, won 278 games, and led the league in innings pitched four times.
Niekro’s knuckleball gave him uncommon longevity, as he was among the league-leaders in strikeouts and innings well into his thirties and even into his forties. Niekro led the league in innings at the age of 40 in 1979 before making his final All-Star team in 1984, when he managed a 3.09 ERA with the New York Yankees at the age of 45.
When he retired in 1987 at the age of 48, he and his brother Joe Niekro, who passed away in 2006, combined for the most combined wins by a set of brothers in MLB history, as Phil’s 318 and Joe’s 221 gave them an astounding total of 539 victories.
Niekro started his career the year Duke Snider retired and ended it just a year after Barry Bonds came on the scene. Niekro’s career is like a baseball time capsule, as he was a fixture on some of baseball’s best teams for almost three decades. Given how long he pitched on the strength of his dominant knuckler, we may never see another pitcher quite like Phil Niekro.