Phil Niekro, Hall of Fame knuckleballer and former Braves pitcher, dead at 81

Phil Niekro, the Hall of Fame pitcher and master of the knuckleball, died in his sleep Saturday night after a long battle with cancer, the Atlanta Braves announced. He was 81.

Niekro pitched for 24 seasons, the first 20 of them with the Braves. He won 316 games, 16th most all-time. Niekro pitched two seasons with the Yankees and won his 300th game with them on Oct. 6, 1985, pitching a shutout against the Blue Jays.

“We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend, Phil Niekro,” the Braves said in a statement. “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.”

A five-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Niekro learned the knuckleball from his father growing up in Ohio.

Niekro threw a no-hitter on Aug. 5, 1973 against the Padres.

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

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