Braves legend Phil Niekro, the Hall of Famer, died at 81

Braves legend Phil Niekro, the Hall of Famer, died at 81

Phil Niekro threw a pitch that baffled hitters and catchers, and heck, he didn't even know where it was going most of the time.

Phil Niekro [Philip Henry Niekro], born on April 1, 1939, died on December 26, 2020. He was an American baseball pitcher who played 24 seasons in the Major League Baseball (MLB), in which 20 of the games were with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves

Niekro’s 318 career winnings games were the most by any knuckleball pitcher, and he ranked 16th on MLB’s all-time winnings list. Phil won the National League (NL) Gold Glove Award five times. Phil Niekro was selected for five All-Star teams and led the league in victories twice, and he earned run average once. He was also played a major role in the Braves, winning their only two division titles before 1991. 

Phil Niekro was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Phil and his younger brother Joe Niekro amassed 539 wins, the most combined wins by brothers in baseball history. Phil’s 121 career victories after the age of 40 is a major league record, in which his longevity is attributed to knuckleball. His knuckleball is difficult to master but is easy on the arm and often baffles hitters due to its unpredictable trajectory.

Niekro remains the last MLB pitcher to have won and lost 20 or more games in the same season. While playing with the 1979 Braves, Niekro finished with 21 wins and 20 losses. It was his third and final 20-win season and Phil’s second and final 20-loss season. That season, he and Joe Niekro were NL co-leaders in wins.

The longtime stalwart of the Atlanta Braves rotation died after a long fight with cancer, the team announced Sunday, becoming the seventh member of the Hall of Fame to pass away in 2020.

The Braves said Niekro died Saturday night in his sleep. He lived in the Atlanta suburb of Flowery Branch, where the main thoroughfare bears his name.

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