Phil Niekro, Corridor of Fame Knuckleball Pitcher, Dies at 81


Phil Niekro, the Corridor of Fame pitcher who confounded batters together with his fluttering knuckleballs for twenty-four seasons, profitable 318 video games, largely with mediocre Atlanta Braves groups, earlier than retiring on the ripe age of 48, died on Saturday. He was 81.

His loss of life, after a battle with most cancers, was introduced by the Braves. He lived in Flowery Department, Ga., about 45 miles northeast of Atlanta, however the Braves didn’t say the place he died.

Niekro joined together with his youthful brother, Joe, who additionally threw knuckleballs and pitched within the majors for 21 seasons, to file 539 profession wins, a file for 2 brothers. The earlier mark, 529, had been held by Gaylord Perry, additionally a Corridor of Famer, and his brother Jim.

A right-hander, like his brother, Phil Niekro (pronounced NEEK-row) threw a complete of 5,404 innings, inserting him No. 4 on the main league profession checklist, with out ever incurring a sore arm, permitting him to endure in Main League Baseball far longer than most different gamers.

He led the Nationwide League in single-season victories in 1974, when he was 20-13, and he tied Joe for many wins in 1979, when he went 21-20 (additionally shedding probably the most video games within the league). Joe was 21-11 that season with the Houston Astros.

Phil, who retired after the 1987 season, was inducted into the Baseball Corridor of Fame in 1997. However for all of his achievements, he by no means made it to a World Sequence, his Braves groups reaching solely the Nationwide League Championship Sequence twice, shedding each occasions. Phil pitched for 4 groups and Joe for seven. They have been teammates with the Braves in 1973 and ’74 and briefly with the Yankees in 1985.

Phil’s knuckleballs have been truly thrown with two fingernails, which he allowed to develop unnaturally lengthy. He pressed them into the baseball’s seams, held his wrist stiff and basically pushed the baseball ahead.

The thought was to ship the pitches with no spin, permitting air currents to make them break up or down, in or out, on the final second, conserving hitters off steadiness however typically bedeviling his catchers as effectively.

Bob Uecker, who caught for Niekro in 1967, when Niekro was rising as a number one pitcher, advised Sports activities Illustrated in 1969 what that was like, drawing on the wry persona that he would later put to make use of as a baseball broadcaster“In these days, Phil had much less management,” Uecker mentioned. “Generally I’d know earlier than he let go of it that it was going to get by me. I’d simply begin working and play it off the wall. Not less than I received to know quite a lot of the parents within the field seats.”

Niekro himself was not one to explicate his knuckleball, telling Sports activities Illustrated in 1994: “No one has ever given me a superb, particular rationalization as to why the ball does what it does. The factor that I really feel kind of responsible about is that with each different pitch, you attempt to make the ball do one thing, spin it to make it curve or sink or sail. All I attempt to do is make the ball do nothing.”

Philip Henry Niekro was born on April 1, 1939, in Blaine, Ohio, just a few miles from his household’s dwelling in Lansing. He was the center of three youngsters of Joseph Niekro, a coal miner, and Henrietta (Klinkoski) Niekro.

The senior Niekro, who threw a knuckleball pitching in sandlot baseball, taught the pitch to Phil when he was 11 years previous or so. (Joe, 5 years Phil’s junior, was too younger to attempt it again then.) Phil threw his knuckleball and performed basketball in highschool and was signed by the Milwaukee Braves group out of a tryout camp in July 1958 for a $500 bonus (about $4,500 in right now’s cash).

He made his main league debut with the Braves in 1964 and pitched nearly completely in reduction till 1967, the franchise’s second season in Atlanta, when he made 20 begins and led the N.L. in earned run common, at 1.87, whereas going 11-9.

Niekro was a four-time All-Star with the Braves, who launched him after the 1983 season. He received 16 video games for the Yankees in each 1984, when he was an All-Star as soon as extra, and in 1985, earlier than being launched by them as effectively.

He later pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays earlier than the Braves introduced him again as their starter for his or her final dwelling recreation of the 1987 season. He pitched into the fourth inning of a loss to the San Francisco Giants in his ultimate main league look.

Niekro had a profession file of 318-274 with an earned run common of three.35, struck out a league-leading 262 batters in 1977 and led the N.L. in full video games and innings pitched 4 occasions. He pitched a no-hitter towards the San Diego Padres in 1973 and had a league-leading profitable share of .810 in 1982, when he was 17-4. He acquired a Gold Glove award for his fielding 5 occasions.

Joe Niekro, who pitched for 11 of his 22 seasons with the Astros, had a profession mark of 221-204.

After his pitching profession, Niekro was the supervisor and normal supervisor of the Colorado Silver Bullets, a barnstorming ladies’s baseball crew that performed towards males’s ball golf equipment, and he managed for the Braves within the minors.

His survivors embody his spouse, Nancy; his sons John, Philip and Michael; and two grandchildren. Joe Niekro died of a mind aneurysm in 2006 at 61.

Niekro recorded his three hundredth profession victory pitching for the Yankees towards the Blue Jays on the ultimate day of the 1985 common season, stopping them 8-0.

He threw fastballs, curves, screwballs and even “blooper” pitches — not a single knuckleball — till Tony Fernandez had doubled with two out within the ninth inning.

“I at all times needed to pitch a complete recreation with out throwing knuckleballs as a result of folks thought I couldn’t get folks out with out throwing them,” Niekro advised The New York Occasions after that recreation, which he ended by placing out Jeff Burroughs on three knucklers.

As he put it, “I figured there was no different solution to end the sport than utilizing the pitch that received me there.”



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