Phil NiekroPhilip Henry Niekro
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in: 1997
Primary team: Atlanta Braves
Primary position: Pitcher
“Catching Niekro’s knuckeball was great. I got to meet a lot of important people. They all sit behind home plate.” — Bob Uecker.
Only nine of the 17,000-plus men who have played major league baseball played for more seasons than Phil Niekro, who pitched for the Braves, Yankees, Indians, and Blue Jays for 24 seasons. Among pitchers, only Cy Young, Pud Galvin, and Walter Johnson have been on the mound for more innings than Niekro’s 5,404—and none of them in baseball’s post-1920, live-ly ball era. And Niekro indeed threw a “lively ball.” He is perhaps the greatest practitioner of the knuckleball. Another prominent knuckleballer, Tom Candiotti, was Niekro’s teammate on the Indians in 1986, and said that talking to “Knucksie” was “like talking to Thomas Edison about light bulbs.”
The knuckleball is a notoriously difficult pitch to hit—and to catch. Some posit that Niekro’s long minor league career, from 1959 to 1966, was the result of minor league catchers being ill equipped to handle the pitch—though the pitch also helped extend Niekro’s big league career well beyond the age of 40.
After brief major league stints in 1964-66, Knucksie stuck in 1967, leading the NL in ERA (at 1.87) and in wild pitches (with 19). He went 23-13 for the Braves in 1969, as they captured the first-ever NL West division title.
On Aug. 5, 1973, Niekro pitched a no-hitter against the Padres.
He and his brother Joe are the all-time leaders in wins by brothers, with 539, topping Jim and Gaylord Perry’s 529.
The Niekro brothers tied for the NL lead in wins in 1979, with 21. They faced each other nine times, with Joe holding a slight edge at 5-4. Phil Niekro signed with the Yankees in 1984, and won 16 games that season and the next, winning his 300th game as a Yankee in 1985. He pitched for the Indians in 1986 and ’87, finishing up in ’87 with brief stints for Toronto and the Braves. From 1994-1997, he managed the women’s barn-storming Colorado Silver Bullets.
Year Inducted: 1997
Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
Position Played: Pitcher
Birth place: Blaine, Ohio
Birth year: 1939
Milwaukee Braves (1964-1965)
Atlanta Braves (1966-1983)
Atlanta Braves (1987)
New York Yankees (1984-1985)
Cleveland Indians (1986-1987)
Toronto Blue Jays (1987)
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