BREAKING

MLB Hall of Famer Phil Niekro passes away


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Niekro was a Hall of Fame pitcher (courtesy Hall of Fame)
Niekro was a Hall of Fame pitcher (courtesy Hall of Fame)

ATLANTA -- Braves legend Phil Niekro passed away last night in his sleep after a long battle with cancer. He was 81 years old.

We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend, Phil Niekro. 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.

He was a constant presence over the years, in our clubhouse, our alumni activities and throughout Braves Country and we will forever be grateful for having him be 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.

Niekro enjoyed a 24-year major-league career, 21 of which were spent across two stints with the Braves. He signed with Milwaukee in 1958, and after making his big-league debut six years later, proceeded to anchor the Braves rotation for the next two decades.

Niekro, nicknamed “Knucksie” for his frequent use of the knuckleball, pitched in a franchise-record 740 games, and he owns or shares 12 other Atlanta career pitching records. He also ranks second in franchise history in games started (595), innings pitched (4,622.2), shutouts (43) and strikeouts (2,912), while placing third in wins (268), fifth in complete games (226) and 10th in ERA (3.20).

Beginning with his first full major-league season in 1967, when he posted the majors lowest ERA (1.87), Niekro went 14 consecutive campaigns compiling at least 10 wins and 200.0 innings, a stretch that ended with the strike-shortened 1981 season. In three of those years, Niekro won at least 20 games, including leading the National League in victories in 1974 (20) and 1979 (21). He won a career-best 23 games in 1969, helping Atlanta to the N.L. West division title, the franchise’s first since relocating from Milwaukee in 1966. He finished as the N.L Cy Young runner-up that season to New York’s Tom Seaver, one of five top-six Cy Young finishes in his career.

On August 5, 1973, Niekro tossed the 12th no-hitter in franchise history, allowing three walks and striking out four, as the Braves beat the Padres, 9-0, at Atlanta Stadium.

In his Braves career (1964-83, 1987), Niekro went 268-230 with a 3.20 ERA (1,645 ER/4,622.2 IP), while authoring 226 complete games in 595 starts.

Niekro had his No. 35 retired by Atlanta in 1984, the first year of his professional career outside of the Braves organization. He was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

The Braves also honor Niekro’s legacy by annually presenting the “Phil Niekro Award,” awarded to the top minor-league pitcher in the Braves organization.

Niekro spent the final four years of his career with the Yankees (1984-85), Indians (1986-87) and Blue Jays (1987). On October 6, 1985, as a 46-year-old, Niekro won the 300th game of his career, shutting out the American League East champion Blue Jays, 8-0. He recorded a major-league record 121 wins after turning 40. He retired as a 48-year-old, rejoining the Braves to make the final appearance of his career on September 27, 1987 against the Giants. In his 40s, Niekro had a 3.84 ERA in 1,977.0 innings.

The Ohio native accumulated 318 wins in his nearly quarter-century career, posting a lifetime 3.35 ERA (2,012 ER/5,404.1 IP) with 3,342 strikeouts. He ranks fourth in baseball history in innings pitched, 11th in strikeouts and 16th in wins.

The five-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for any donations to be directed to the Edmondson Telford Child Advocacy Center, 603 Washington Street SW, Gainesville, GA, 30501.

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