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Hall of Fame Knuckleball Pitcher was 81 – Deadline

Phil Niekro, the only knuckleball pitcher to win 300 games, died in his sleep Saturday night at age 81 after a long battle with cancer, the Atlanta Braves have announced.

Niekro pitched for 24 seasons, including the first 20 as a Brave before moving on to the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians. He won 318 games, 16th all-time, and pitched until the age of 48. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

He won his 300th game pitching for the New York Yankees on October 6, 1985, throwing a shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We are sorry for the passing of our precious friend, Phil Niekro,” the Braves said in a statement. “Knucksie was woven into the Braves fabric, first in Milwaukee, then in Atlanta. Phil confused the drummers on the field and later was always the first to join our community activities. It was during these community and fan activities where he communicated with fans as if they were long lost friends. He has been a constant presence over the years, in our clubhouse, alumni activities and throughout the land of the Braves and we will be forever grateful to have been a part of our organization. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Nancy, sons Philip, John and Michael, and two grandchildren Chase and Emma.

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Knuckleball is a funny duck among the baseball fields. It’s hard to master, and there are days when even the best pitchers have no control. But when the pitcher and pitch are in sync, they can make hitters look comedic by waving a ball that floats like a butterfly. Very few pitchers ever get to master it but those who tend to have long careers because the pitch is pitched slowly and without too much stress on the arm.

Five-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Niekro learned knuckleball from his father growing up in Ohio. He threw a no-hitter on August 5, 1973 against the Padres, one of the major achievements of his long career.

Joe Niekro, Phil’s younger brother and also a ball player who pitched for 22 seasons, died in 2006 of a brain aneurysm.

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