Phil NiekroPhilip Henry Niekro
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in: 1997
Primary team: Atlanta Braves
Primary position: Pitcher
“Catching Niekro’s knuckleball was great. I got to meet a lot of important people. They all sit behind home plate.” — Bob Uecker
During 24 big league seasons, Phil Niekro rode his knuckleball to 5,404 innings pitched – the most of any pitcher who started his career in the live ball era. But Niekro, who pitched for the Braves, Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for 24 seasons, was more than simply durable. His 318 wins and 3,342 strikeouts are a testament to a pitcher who was often untouchable.
Taught the knuckleball as a youngster by his father, Niekro made the difficult decision to throw it exclusively in the minor leagues – committing his future to a pitch that is completely unpredictable. After a four years in the minors and another spent in the U.S. Army, Niekro made the Milwaukee Braves' Opening Day roster in 1964. But it wasn't until three years later when the team – now in Atlanta – finally committed to giving Niekro regular work. He responded with an 11-9 record and an big league-best 1.87 ERA – and was on his way to becoming a star.
Niekro went 23-13 for the Braves in 1969, as they captured the first-ever National League West division title. On Aug. 5, 1973, Niekro pitched a no-hitter against the Padres. And as the decade wore on, Niekro became more effective. From 1977-79, Niekro averaged an incredible 336 innings pitched per year to go with an average of 19 wins per season and a 3.43 ERA. He was 21-20 in 1979 alone, setting a career high with 342 innings pitched.
With 268 wins under his belt, Niekro signed with the Yankees as a free agent following the 1983 season. He would win 32 games with New York over two seasons, including his 300th on Oct. 6, 1985. Niekro pitched a four-hit shutout against the AL East champion Toronto Blue Jays that day, not throwing a knuckleball until the last pitch of the game – when he struck out Toronto's Jeff Burroughs.
The Yankees released Niekro toward the end of Spring Training in 1986, but he quickly hooked on with the Indians, where he won 11 games and pitched 210.1 innings at the age of 47. He retired following the 1987 season, with his 318 wins combining with brother Joe Niekro's 221 to give them the most victories (539) by any brother combination in big league history.
Phil Niekro finished his career with five All-Star Game selections, five Gold Glove Awards and 716 games started, which ranks No. 5 on the all-time list.
Niekro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. He passed away on Dec. 26, 2020.
Year Inducted: 1997
Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
Position Played: Pitcher
Birth place: Blaine, Ohio
Birth year: 1939
Died: 2020, Flowery Branch, Georgia
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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