Braves legend Phil Niekro has passed away at age 81 after a battle with cancer. Both the Braves and Major League Baseball released statements commemorating the Hall-of-Famer…
We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend, Phil Niekro. Knucksie was woven into the Braves fabric, first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. Phil baffled batters on the field and later was always the first to join in our community activities. It was during those community and fan activities where he would communicate with fans as if they were long lost friends.
He was a constant presence over the years, in our clubhouse, our alumni activities and throughout Braves Country and we will forever be grateful for having him be such an important part of our organization.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Nancy, sons Philip, John and Michael and his two grandchildren Chase and Emma.
From MLB commissioner Rob Manfred:
But even more than his signature pitch and trademark durability, Phil will be remembered as one of our game’s most genial people. He always represented his sport extraordinarily well, and he will be deeply missed. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my condolences to Phil’s family, friends and the many fans he earned throughout his life in our National Pastime.
Niekro’s incredible career stretched across 24 seasons, with the right-hander finally retiring at age 48 after one final game in an Atlanta uniform. Only Cy Young, Pud Galvin, and Walter Johnson threw more Major League innings than Niekro’s 5404 1/3 frames, as Niekro used his legendary knuckleball to become the biggest workhorse in modern baseball history. Niekro had a whopping 19 seasons of 200+ innings pitched, with four of those seasons topping the 300-inning threshold. Amazingly, Niekro amassed this record despite only posting 140 MLB innings and one start prior to his 28th birthday.
Beyond just durability, of course, Niekro posted some masterful results on the mound. He won 318 games and posted a 3.35 ERA for his career, keeping batters off-balance despite not being known as a strikeout pitcher (even in an era when hitters were expected to make contact and big strikeout totals were rare for batters). That didn’t stop Niekro from recording 3342 strikeouts, the 11th-highest total in baseball history.
As you might expect, Niekro’s name can be found near the top of many all-time statistical categories. His resume also included five All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves, plus a runner-up finish to Tom Seaver in the voting for the 1969 NL Cy Young Award. Beginning his career when the Braves were still located in Milwaukee, Niekro spent 21 seasons and 740 of his 864 career games with the Braves organization, also pitching with the Yankees, Indians, and Blue Jays from 1984-87.
We at MLBTR extend our condolences to Niekro’s family and many fans around the world.
One of the first baseball cards I remember collecting was of Knucksie. RIP Phil
Sad day! When I think of baseball in 60’s and 70’s think of Phil .
Really sad year. 2021 can’t come fast enough
I believe I have his rookie card.
Niekro’s durability was phenomenal. It’s almost impossible to imagine a pitcher throwing 300 innings in one season today, but he did it all the time, even into his late 30s. Amazing.
FredMcGriff for the HOF
So is Manfred going to release a statement when the MLB all time hits leader passes? RIP Phil Niekro.
Not sure if and when it was added to the article but yes he did….
You mean the guy that bet against his own team while managing them? That guy? He should be mentioned but never allowed in Canton.
I suggest you read the Dowd report in it’s entirety.
I agree, since Pete Rose isn’t affiliated with the NFL or its Hall of Fame. However, he should merit more than a mention in Cooperstown, where the MLB Hall of Fame is located.
You need to do your research there shitboarder
ghost of dave kingman
Rose 4 Canton!
goalieguy41? Man you might consider a little self inventory.
What an imbecile! YOU should be banned for life.
” mlb is saddened to learn of the passing of pete rose..he played with heart ,guts,talent and 1000.00 on his team, win or lose. …he will be missed ( by his bookies he still owes money too)….there i set manfreds statement up.
he bet ON his own team, not against them
how did this conversation go from RIP Phil Niekro to Pete Rose?
Time to CLOSE COMMENTS!
Ugh enough 2020
arthur blank_for owner
ikr…these last 4 days seemingly taking forever, 2020 going out kicking and screaming… Remember always trying to throw a knuckle ball cuz of him. RIP Phil!
RIP Phil Niekro, this is sad
Always loved watching him pitch. Knuckleball or not, the man knew how to pitch and keep hitters guessing.
Those 78 MPH fastballs he’d mix in were the best. 🙂
RIP Phil. Loved watching you on the superstation when I was first falling in love with baseball.
Gibson, Seaver, Ford, Niekro
We have lost a lot of MLB legends this year. It’s sad. My best thoughts and wishes go out to the families of the players.
Hell of a rotation we lost
Kaline, Brock, Joe Morgan
2020, don’t let the door hit you on the butt on your way out.
whitey ford and bob gibson too
and tom seaver
Are you serious or trolling? Or seriously trolling?
Let’s not forget Tony Fernandez, Jimmy Wynn and one of my boyhood favorites, Glenn Beckert.
We lost an all star team this year
Don’t forget Lou Brock
Lou Brock was one of my favorite players.. I picked his rookie card up awhile back
And DICK Allen!
Add classy Lou Brock to your Superstar Legends list of Baseball’s HOFer’s who passed away in 2020.
An all-time favorite of mine. RIP Knucksie.
No way, RIP Phil. One of my favorite players of all time. He was a braves legend I was blessed to be able to meet him a few years back and was a really nice man.
not only a Braves legend. An all around MLB LIFE LEGEND
A Braves legend.
He was a baseball legend
Condolences to family and friends.
George hubschman, roto imbeciles
I particularly loved these 3 seasons for Phil Niekro (1977-1979) when he averaged 336 IP with a 239/126 K/BB per season. He had an unbelievable 114 pitching decisions (56-58) during that time of providence, 65 CG, 7 shut outs, and a 26.3 WAR. And even though Niekro won 318 games, he didn’t garner his first W until he was 26. R.I.P.
Posting my first comment here in about 7 years just for this.
From the article: “It was during those community and fan activities where he would communicate with fans as if they were long lost friends.”
I just wanted to say how true that was in my personal experience. He did an autograph signing in Athens when I was a UGA student. I showed up way too early and ended up being one of the first people there. He was setting up at a table and saw me sort of standing around, so he nodded my way and I came over to say hi. I had prepared things in my head I wanted to ask if I got the chance, but they all kinda blanked out when he was shaking my hand. He signed a ball for me and chatted about UGA for awhile before I finally remembered to ask what it was like playing on a major league team with his brother. He said “it was about the coolest thing.”
Through work with various charities I got to meet more than a few Braves over the years — some nice, some not so nice. Phil Niekro was one of the absolute best. I’m glad he wore our uniform and I’ll really miss knowing he’s out there probably being nice to someone else.
Thank you for sharing a wonderful story, Cobby_Box.
Thanks for sharing this.
Great story about a great man
RIP, Phil Niekro
Here’s a link to his baseball reference page:
He was an amazing pitcher. RIP Phil.
A great pitcher, and a Hall of Fame human being. Always good to the fans, always willing to give back to the community…
The world could use many more like him.
What a class act guy and pitcher. Remember went to the old launching pad one game.. Think was on a 4th of July 1 year mid 70’s, Knucksie was lined up vs Candy Man for the Pirates. Stargell hit cpl homers, neither guy was on, but was a thrill seeing Niekro pitch in person.
once asked how many wins he needed to get to be guaranteed a trip to the Hall of Fame. “I’ll keep pitching until I get there.”
RIP Phil. You will be missed.
Unfortunately, we lost one helluva rotation this year so far.
Seager, Gibby, Whitey and now Knucksie.
RIP gentlemen and thank you for all the memories.
Seaver and Gibson erw studs for sure. All of these guys mean a lot to the game. To many sad days lately
Cancer sucks no matter the type. Would never wish cancer on even my worst enemy. Lost my wife after a long battle a year and a half ago. RIP Phil and prayers for peace and strength for your family.
RIP Knuksie, Thanks for the memories.
My daughter was at a wedding Phil also was at and he signed a piece of cardboard for her to give me, she told him I was a Brave fan for decades. She said he was so nice and kind.
Still have all of Niekro’s Brave cards , signed baseball and most of all I framed that piece of cardboard years ago.
RIP Phil and thanks for being a good person.
Ducky Buckin Fent
I was fortunate that I got to see Phil Niekro pitch. He had a couple pretty good years with the Yanks in the mid 80’s, man.
Knuckleballs are always a great pub baseball conversation. How they work. What they act like. & – of course – everyone thinks that they can either throw one or hit one. Sometimes both.
& every conversation about knucklers *has* to include Niekro.
Awesome career & accomplishments. Maybe he’s going against Seaver tonight.
Positive thoughts to his family.
Absolutely. RA Dickey and Phil Niekro are the two that come to mind first for me too.
I wasnt lucky enough to be able to watch him live, but you better believe that I’m gonna be doing that later.
Great player, and a really respected person. RIP
Tim Wakefield always comes to mind for me only because I watched him pitch in Pittsburgh before he really learned the pitch and got released then got to lament his loss when he finally got it in Boston.
Tim Wakefield, Wilbur Wood and the originator of the knuckleball Hoyt Wilhelm…
Partly. I believe Hoyt Wilhelm taught Wilbur Wood, both Phil and Joe Niekro and so many others the knuckleball but, Hoyt is not the originator. A photo of Emil Dutch Leonard’s grip in a magazine was the model for Hoyt and Jim Bouton learning the knuckler. Eddie Rommel wasn’t its originator either but is the first pitcher to use it regularly (30%).
Btw, I havent gotten in the Kim thread in a while, but I’ll post over there later today.
Ducky Buckin Fent
Let me know as I haven’t been getting notifications lately.
Always good, @Rangers29. I – umm – may have some questions about baseball savant, man.
Duckster (et al)
Merry Christmas to all of you from the wrong side of the pond.
As you know I came to baseball via cricket and was the cricketing equivalent of a knuckler – look up some you tube highlights of Shane Warne, my fave Abdul Qadir or Stuart McGill (the most beautiful liquid bowling action) and you’ll see the similarity. I’m not comparing myself with any of those guys but they’re flipping it at 50mph….
I’ve watched some of his work on old you tube clips and it is nuts. He’s lobbing a pancake towards the 3B and it lands around the HP Umps knees. There can’t be more fun than being a knuckler and just floating it past hitters. Rip your arm off at 95? No thanks….
He sounds like a top bloke too.
Giggle all the way up the stairs Pops!
He was 21 and 20 in 1979, Wilbur Wood was 20 and 19 in 1974.
Ducky Buckin Fent
21-20, man. That just sounds completely absurd doesn’t it? Can you imagine how valuable a pitcher like that would be in today’s MLB? Mercy. Kids. Work on your knuckleball, man.
Heck…the way the Giants are looking I may just go down to the park & start working on mine, man. Gotta be better than this nonsense, man.
Didn’t Wilbur Wood start both games of a doubleheader once?
Yes, at Yankee Stadium. Here’s a story about it. Ha. Babe Ruth also did it. The Babe pretty much did everything in baseball but sell hot dogs. And the only reason he wasn’t asked to do that was that ownership probably feared he’d eat them all.
What I find crazy about Phil Niekro is that from 74-80, he started 280 games. And was asked to be a reliever in another dozen or so. I wish I’d been party to that conversation.
“Phil – bout time you took one for the team here!”
He actually voluntered tp pitch between starts.
And I think Wilbur Wood lost both games of DH…
@whyhayzee – he was 11-9 with a league leading 1.87 ERA in ’67. The year before the year of the pitcher.
And no Cy Young votes.
tom seaver, bob gibson, lou brock, al kaline, joe morgan, whitey ford and now phil neikro
“Should be HOFer” Dick Allen too
Ducky Buckin Fent
Lotta good players this year, man.
@Cey Hey actually put together an entire damn lineup a couple months ago.
I updated it below to include guys like Niekro, Dick Allen, Lindy McDaniel, and Denis Menke.
I was born in the late 70s, so I don’t have many memories of Niekro pitching, though his wonderful ’86 Topps card with the Yanks is quite clear in my mind after all these years.
I’ve always heard and read good things about him, though. This morning I caught the end of a clip from an interview with him when MLBTR reported on his passing. Niekro described his feelings about going for win #300 in the last game of the 1985 season, how badly he wanted to win that game because he wasn’t sure if another team would sign him for the following season. He said something along the lines of not wanting to win so much for himself but instead “for my father and my family.” Apparently, his dad was critically ill in the hospital at the time.
There was such sincerity and humility in his voice – this all-time great just wanting to get the win for his ill father. Needless to say, it was very touching, and it gave me some context for the stories I’ve read about his generosity. The more I learn about his life, the more impressed I am. May he rest in peace.
(The LA Times archive has a story on the 300th win – it’s the second hit if you Google “Phil Niekro 300 wins.” Worth a read – that’s how I filled in the gaps of the story after catching the interview midway thru.)
Watched him pitch at Exhibition Stadium. One of the first baseball games I ever attended. I couldn’t believe what his pitches were doing and how old he was when my dad told me. RIP.
Phil Niekro received his first Gold Glove at age 39 and wound up with five. He got won at age 44!
Here’s an updated roster of Major League players who have died in 2020. It includes 30 players: 6 starting pitchers, 6 relief pitchers, a starting 9 position players, and 9 reserves. The SPs and RPs are listed in order of career WAR per Baseball-Reference.
Total WAR: 1,084.7
All-Star Game Appearances: 116
Hall of Famers: 7 (possibly 8 if Dick Allen is selected)
SP – Tom Seaver
SP – Phil Niekro
SP – Bob Gibson
SP – Whitey Ford
SP – John Antonelli
SP – Mike McCormick
RP – Lindy McDaniel
RP – Ron Perranoski
RP – Don Larsen
RP – Bart Johnson
RP – Bob Miller (Whiz Kids era)
RP – Bob Lee
C – Hal Smith
1B – Dick Allen
2B – Joe Morgan
3B – Denis Menke
SS – Tony Fernandez
LF – Lou Brock
CF – Jimmy Wynn
RF – Al Kaline
DH – Bob Watson
C – Don Pavletich
IF – Glenn Beckert
IF – Frank Bolling
IF – Horace Clarke
IF – Eddie Kasko
IF – Tony Taylor
OF – Lou Johnson
OF – Jay Johnstone
OF – Claudell Washington
Total WAR (per Baseball-Reference): 1084.7
All-Star Game Appearances: 116
Doesn’t matter to me what the WAR is, if I had 1 game I must win Bob Gibson is on the mound. What a fierce competitor.
Ha. He wouldn’t let his kids beat him at checkers. Nine Gold Gloves and a really tough out at the plate. Gibson was a bigger power threat than most of the day’s shortstops and catchers. He also stole 13 bases.
Couple good managers also. Jim Frey, Kasko, Bobby Winkles, and John McNamara.
geotheo, thanks. I should have mentioned that. For a while, it looked like we might lose a HOF manager in Lasorda. The only two autographs I got at games as a kid were McNamara, then an A’s coach, and Horace Clarke. Both gone in 2020.
**Oops. He “got one” at age 44 (or won one).
He’s throwing knuckleballs to Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, and many others greats now. He, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver are working together on the 2020 class’ team…Bob brings his heat to those hitters while Phil comes in with the dancing ball, with Tom coming in after. Then on other days, they change order, always keeping Phil in between. Joe Jackson says, “That ain’t fair!” And they all still aren’t letting Ty Cobb play.
2020 and these legends….wow! What a year.
I was at the game in 1987 when Phil got kicked out at Anaheim Stadium for having an emery board in his back pocket.. It was classic Phil, and a memory I’ll never forget!
That was his little brother Joe – not Phil.
Thanks! I was pretty close, and it’s still a fond memory..
Played until he was 48. Legend. RIP. King of the knuckleballers.
Along with the Hall of Famer who made the pitch famous, Hoyt Wilhelm. And don’t forget Wilbur Wood, who had single-season WARs of 11.8 and 1`0.7 in 1971-72.
Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro
1 hall of famer died in 2019, 1 in 2018, 2 in 2017
For players, I believe the record for deaths in one year is three in 2002: Ted Williams, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Enos Slaughter.
For the decade of 2010-19, I count 15: Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Bobby Doerr, Bob Feller, Tony Gwynn, Monte Irvin, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Willie McCovey, Stan Musial, Robin Roberts, Frank Robinson, Red Schoendienst, and Duke Snider. A 16th is Ron Santo, who hadn’t yet been enshrined. Let me know if I missed anyone.
Any death is untimely for the person’s loved ones, of course, but the passings of Carter & Gwynn were especially sad for me. IIRC they were both in their 50s – really a generation younger than the other folks on that list.
After many years visiting this site, this is my first post. Phil and his brother Joe are local legends, both growing up in the next town from me in Lansing, Ohio. They never forgot their roots and were always a phone call away for local charitable events. A little side note, Phil went to school with Celtic HOF John Havlicek and they were friends until the end. Phil was a class act all the way, RIP buddy.
Thanks for sharing = )
Phil Neikro is one of those players that you wouldn’t have to know the years he pitched to see that it was a different era of baseball and nothing highlights that more than his really strange 1979 season.
Here are some of his stats he lead the league in in 1979.
Complete games- 23
These career bests he set was age 40, he completed more games than he won and he actually lead the league in both wins AND losses. Just a peculiar season.
Niekro’s 342 innings in 1979 were 49 2/3 innings more than MLB runnerup J.R. Richard’s 291 1/3. If that is not a record margin it must be close. The next season, Steve Carlton led MLB with 304 innings. No pitcher has reached 300 since.
That 1979 workload completed a three-year run in which Niekro logged 1006 2/3 innings. Today, a pitcher who tosses half that amount is considered an inning-eater. A different era, but, suffice to say, Phil Niekro doesn’t get enough credit for doing what he did., He won five Gold Gloves at age 39 or older, and had just six career wins entering his age-28 season. Yet there are those who have suggested that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. If a guy like Phil Niekro doesn”t belong, then why have a Hall of Fame at all?
Fast forward to 2020: Today, a pitche
Rest in Paradise Phil Niekro (insert praying. hands here)
As a life long Braves fan…Phil was always one of my favorites. Had the opportunity to actually meet meet him on several occasions thanks to the Braves alumni Sundays. Very friendly and always so accommodating. He will be missed. Just wanted to express my condolences to his family.
Phil Niekro basically saved Tim Wakefield’s career and turned him into one of the best knuckleball pitchere of all time. R.I.P. Phil
Charlie Hough, too. Here’s an excellent interview where Niekro talks about the fraternity of knuckleballers among other things. I feel we have taken these guys for granted. There’s a reason why there have been so few pitchers who have been successful knuckleballers: because it is a hard pitch to master. There’s also a stigma attached to it like shooting free throws underhand, where it’s viewed as not macho enough or something. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of watching macho pitchers get lit up like a Christmas tree. Give me innings and give me outs.
Ducky Buckin Fent
TTO hitting has lead to a distinct form of pitching to countermand that offensive approach. Look at all the interchangeable pitchers the Ray’s threw out during the postseason. & they’re considered to be the pinnacle of pitching development.
They’re all pretty much the same dude.
Fastball & a slider. Sometimes a curve instead. If he can throw an approved change up, he becomes some form of multi-inning guy.
That’s why my favorite pitchers to watch are guys who’ve successfully transitioned from NPB or the Serie Nacional. Those pitchers are different. We just saw the Rangers sign Arihara who throws 7 pitches. What would Tampa have done with him if he’d been drafted by them?
Macho – or not – I prefer an aesthetique with some variety. Guys with wide repertoires, unorthodox mechanics, differing arm slots, unique pitches, knuckleballs, etc are just different ways of accomplishing the same thing.
I can certainly enjoy Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson or whomever else pitch, too.
I simply enjoy watching pitchers throw & their differing styles & idiosyncrasies. I think that’s becoming one of the big losses in baseball, man. I can’t actually think of a current knuckleball pitcher.
I can stop typing & go back to shaking my fist at the clouds.
“Old man yells at cloud…” great reference !
95.9 bbref WAR, tied with Cal Ripken Jr. for 35th all-time
88.5 bbref WAR as a Brave, good for 5th all-time in the organization
Played 24 seasons, tied for 4th all-time (’69-’87)
2nd in CY in ’69
3rd in CY in ’74
Received MVP votes in ’69, ’78, and ’79
Holds the Atlanta Braves team record for games pitched with 740.
Holds many Atlanta Braves single-season records, most notably:
Games Started (44; 1979)
Complete Games (23; 1979)
Innings Pitched (342; 1979)
Shutouts (6; 1974)
Threw 210 innings in a season when he was 47 years old. Guys in there 20’s can’t throw 180 anymore. I know he was a knuckleballer but that’s still pretty awesome.
Carlos, Check this out. It’s the number of MLB pitchers who have thrown 200 innings in each of the last five full seasons, preceded by the number of 200-inning guys in the final year of the five decades before that. In parentheses are the number of 300-inning pitchers. Most alarming to me is the drop from 2015 to 2016 which is proving to not be a fluke. Analytics has gone wild.
These days, the number of pitchers who qualify for their league’s ERA title hover between 55 and 60. In 2020’s 60-game season, just 40 pitchers tossed at least 60 innings. Imagine what it might be like, post-pandemic? It might take a while for starters to build their workload back to normal, assuming they’re even allowed to.
2019 – 15
2018 – 13
2017 – 15
2016 – 15
2015 – 28
2009 – 36
1999 – 44
1989 – 51
1979 – 54 (1)
1969 – 59 (9)
It all started on jan 1 2020 with a guy who will never ever be considered great but had 1 great game and hasnt stopped yet…don larsen
In 1996 I moved to Peach Tree City, GA for work. I was buying a car at a GM dealership in Union City, GA. In walks Phil Niekro. The dealers all stopped everything and began to tease him with nail files (Wrong Niekro). He had ordered a Tahoe Sport but when it came in, he wanted a Suburban. I bought the Tahoe. .
Ducky Buckin Fent
How can anyone not upvote a comment about knuckleballs & trucks?
It’s unfortunate that he never won a ring despite how good he was and how long he played (24 seasons).
One of the all time greats in baseball and for the Braves. He is one of the biggest reasons I became a Braves fan in 1982. Never heard a bad thing about Phil. Always a gentleman, always a class act, always like a friend. Will miss him dearly. RIP.