Teams: Milwaukee Braves, 1964-1965; Atlanta Braves, 1966-1983, 1987; New York Yankees, 1984-1985; Cleveland Indians, 1986-1987; Toronto Blue Jays, 1987
Only the second knuckleballer to reach the Hall, Phil Niekro had a career that was memorable more for longevity and durability than for flashes of brilliance or dominance. He won more than 300 games, but he also holds the record for losses by a National Leaguer in the modern era. What Niekro did was baffle hitters with his knuckler day in and day out for 24 years.
Phil Niekro baffled hitters with his knuckleball for 24 years. After his retirement,
Niekro became the first manager of the Colorado Silver Bullets professional
women's baseball team.
Born in 1939 in Blaine, Ohio, Philip Henry Niekro fell in love with the knuckleball when he was 10 years old. The Milwaukee Braves signed him for a $500 bonus in 1964. He spent all or part of seven seasons in the minors, mostly in relief, because it took that long to master the intricacies of his best pitch. Upon making it to the big club for good in 1967, he started 20 games (and led the NL in ERA), then began a series of starting at least 30 games 18 years straight (with the exception of the 1981 strike year).
In 1977, '78, and '79, Niekro garnered more than 40 starts each year and led the NL in complete games with 20 or more each of those seasons. He won 20 games or more only three times, but for most of his career he was hampered by pitching for a poor team. His 49 shutout losses are the third most in major-league history. He threw 45 shutouts himself.
When Niekro landed 21 victories for the Braves in 1979, he became just the second NL pitcher since 1901 to top 20 for a last-place team. But his 20 losses that year also made him the first NL pitcher in 73 years to do a 20-20.
Released by the Braves when he was 44 years old, Niekro signed with the Yankees and put the knuckler to work disposing of American League batsmen, winning 16 games in each of his two Yankee seasons. His 121 victories after turning 40 are the most in baseball history. He also holds the records for most wins at ages 45, 46, 47, and 48.
With his brother Joe's 221 lifetime wins, the two won more games than any other brothers in history. Niekro was a solid fielder as well, winning five Gold Gloves. He holds another, less happy, record: most seasons played (24) without ever appearing in a World Series game.
After his retirement, Niekro became the first manager of the Colorado Silver Bullets professional women's baseball team. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his fifth year of eligibility, in 1997.
Here are Phil Niekro's major league totals:
|W||L ||ERA ||G ||CG ||IP ||H ||ER ||BB ||SO |
|318||274 ||3.35||864 ||245||5,403.1||5,044||2,011.2||1,809||3,342|
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