The baseball world lost a legend yesterday. Pitcher Phil Niekro passed away on December 26, 2020, to his battle with cancer. Niekro lived a long prosperous life as he was born on April 1st, 1939. The future Hall of Famer was born and grew up in Blaine, Ohio. He attended Bridgeport High School, during his time he was friends with NBA Hall of Famer, John Havlicek.
The year 2020 has taken many baseball legends from us but remembering Phil Niekro, means remembering one of the best knuckleballers in MLB history.
Remembering Phil Niekro: The Beginning
In 1959, Niekro signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for only $250. Niekro was used as a relief pitcher for the few years that followed. In 1964, he finally made his MLB debut with the Milwaukee Brewers. During this season he only pitched 15 innings while spending some time with the Brewers AAA team.
However, in 1965 he spent the entire season in the majors with 41 games, 74 2/3 innings pitched, and accumulated six saves. In 1966, Phil Niekro then went to the Atlanta Braves. During this time in Atlanta, he split time between the Braves major league and AAA teams. He finished the season with a 4-3 record and a 4.11 ERA.
In 1967, fans could see how much he was improving as he led the league in ERA with 1.87 while having a record of 11-9. He also had 10 complete games and had nine saves during that campaign. During this season he started as a relief pitcher, however, he earned a spot in the starting rotation towards the end of the season.
Remembering Phil Niekro: Shining Star
The 1969 season was Phil Niekro’s first All-Star season. He had a 23-13 record with a 2.56 ERA. He finished second in Cy Young voting behind Tom Seaver. Niekro helped the Braves make the playoffs, in his playoff start that season he went 0-1 while allowing four runs in eight innings pitched against the New York Mets. The Braves went on to lose that series.
Remembering Phil Niekro: End of an Era
In 1984, Phil Niekro signed a deal with the New York Yankees. That season in the Bronx he won 16 games and made his fifth and final All-Star Appearance in his Major League career. On October 6th, 1985, Niekro became apart of the 300 win club when he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays.
At 46 years old, he became the oldest player in MLB history to throw a shutout, a record that would later be broken by Jamie Moyer in 2010. He finished the 1985 season with a 16-12 record, which would be the last time he would win more than 15 games in a season.
After the Yankees, Phil Niekro went to pitch for the Cleveland Indians for two years and then the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987, he was released by the Blue Jays and went back to play for the Atlanta Braves in 1987. On September 27th, he made his last start surrendering five runs in three innings and being tagged with the loss. Niekro then retired at the end of that season.
Remembering Phil Niekro: Final Thoughts
Phil Niekro set a major league record by playing 24 Major League seasons without a World Series appearance. He pitched a total of 5,404 1/3 innings, which is the most by any pitcher in the post-1920 live-ball era. Niekro finished with a career total of 318 wins, 274 losses, a career ERA of 3.35 in 864 total games.
Niekro finished his career with five Gold Glove Awards, five All-Star Appearances, and was a one time Roberto Clemente Award winner. He also led the National League in strikeouts in 1977 and ERA in 1967.
He had his number retired by the Atlanta Braves and was enshrined in the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1997. Remembering Phil Niekro as an exceptional pitcher, he has the most wins by a knuckleball pitcher with 318 and ranks 16th on the MLB’s all-time wins list. Even though he has passed on Phil Niekro will always be remembered as a Hall of Fame pitcher.
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