Hall of Famer Phil Niekro Passes at 81

Emmett Gaffney, Staff Writer/Co-Editor

The legendary Hall of Famer Phil Niekro passed away overnight on the 26th. Niekro played in the bigs until his age 48(!) season after which he retired. He pitched for both the Atlanta and Milwaukee Braves, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees. His most successful years were with the Braves. During his time there, he sported a 3.19 ERA, 4 All-star appearances, 5 Gold Gloves, and placed in the top-5 in Cy Young voting thrice.

Niekro’s signature pitch was the knuckleball. He learned the elusive pitch from his father and his brother, Joe, also pitched in the bigs. Fellow Hall of Famer Willie Stargell called Niekro’s knuck “a butterfly with hiccups.”

Many regarded Niekro as one of the nicest guys to share the diamond with. Based on my brief time with him, I fully concur. I met Niekro in February of 2019 at a knuckleball clinic. My brother Ben and I, with my father watching, were tossing prior to the clinic when all 6-0″ of him walked in. He gave my brother and me about 10 minutes I will never forget. He spoke to us alone about the technique, both physical and psychological, of throwing the knuckleball. I did not fully comprehend what I was experiencing. I was having a 1 on 1 with literally the greatest knuckleballer ever. As my dad noted after, it was like he had William Shakespeare talk to him for 10 minutes on the art of writing.

I will always remember my awe-inspiring, albeit brief time with Niekro. He was such a down to earth man. For someone with the name and popularity of Niekro, he did not have to give his time to us. But he did, and I will not forget it.

Rest in Peace, Phil Niekro.

Image courtesy of New York Daily News