Legendary HOF Atlanta Brave knuckleballer Phil Niekro dies at 81

FILE – In this 1970 file photo, Atlanta Braves’ Phil Niekro poses for a photo. Niekro, who pitched well into his 40s with a knuckleball that baffled big league hitters for more than two decades, mostly with the Braves, has died after a long fight with cancer, the team announced Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. He was 81. (AP Photo/File)

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – On Sunday, baseball lost another legend as Hall of Famer, and Braves great Phil Niekro passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer at the age of 81.

Niekro, inducted into Cooperstown in 1997 was the master of a long lost craft, the knuckleball. In 24 seasons (including 21 in a Braves uniform), Knucksie won 318 games, 16th most all time. A five time All Star, Niekro also took home five Gold Gloves, to go along with an ERA title, and twice led the NL in wins in 1974 and 1979. But perhaps more impressive than his accomplishments on the mound was his persona and ability to still connect to current players. He was a fixture at Spring Training and was often spotted in Gwinnett at Stripers games.

FILE – In this March 29, 2007, file photo, Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro holds a knuckleball at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Former Brave pitcher RA Dickey tweeted on Sunday: “So sad today. Phil Neikro helped me in a profound way to change the course of my career and life. I was perpetually moved by his kindness, wisdom, and sense of humor. What a man! He will be missed. Thank you Phil!”

In addition, the team issued the following statement on Sunday morning: 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.

Niekro joins a list of legends lost in 2020 that also includes Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford, along with Joe Morgan, Al Kalinin, Lou Brock and other greats of the game.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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