Phil Niekro, Hall of Fame Pitcher, Dead at 81

He was famous for his use of the knuckleball

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Phil Niekro of the Atlanta Braves during an MLB game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 1, 1979.
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

In the game of baseball, some pitchers became legends because of their speed or strength. Phil Niekro’s long career in baseball was sustained on something else: an unpredictability and versatility, including a devastating knuckleball. All told, his career spanned 24 seasons in the majors, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Niekro died on Saturday after having been diagnosed with cancer; he was 81. Brian Snitker, manager of the Atlanta Braves — the team Niekro spent the bulk of his career with — spoke highly of the man to “I don’t know if you’ll ever find someone who loved life as much as he did,” said Snitker. “He sucked the life out of every day that he lived. He was really a special, special guy.”

Besides his penchant for the knuckleball, which his father had taught him growing up, Niekro holds a number of unique distinctions in baseball history. He and his younger brother Joe are the winningest sibling combination in MLB history, for one thing. And of his 318 career wins, 121 of them came after he turned 40 — a feat that has yet to be equaled.

Niekro’s long career emerged from his use of the knuckleball, which was less strenuous on his pitching arm. All told, he pitched 5,404 innings in the majors, placing him fourth on the all-time list. He pitched a no-hitter in 1973 and won a total of 5 Gold Gloves. His career in baseball was especially singular; so too was his life.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!