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Baseball great, Phil Niekro, was born Philip Henry Niekro on April 1, 1939 in Blaine, Ohio. Phil Niekro is a former pitcher in Major League Baseball and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A native of Blaine, Ohio, Niekro attended Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio, and was a boyhood friend of future Basketball Hall-of-Famer John Havlicek.
With 318 career victories, Niekro is the most successful knuckleball pitcher of all time. He was also an excellent fielder, winning the National League Gold Glove Award five times. Together with his brother and sometime teammate Joe, the Niekro brothers are the winningest brother combination in baseball history, with 539 wins combined. Phil Niekro's 121 career victories after the age of 40 is a major league record, and his longevity is attributed to the knuckleball, which, while a difficult pitch for pitchers to master, is easy on the arm and difficult for batters to hit. He is also the uncle of former San Francisco Giants first baseman and current Houston Astros farmhand Lance Niekro. The baseball field in Phil's hometown of Bridgeport, Ohio has been named Niekro Diamond in honor of Phil and Joe Niekro.
Niekro pitched for 20 seasons for the Atlanta Braves (two of those seasons when the team was still in Milwaukee). He was popular in the city of Atlanta for remaining loyal to a team that often had a losing record, as well as for his contributions to Atlanta charities. On August 5, 1973, Niekro no-hit the San Diego Padres. The no-hitter was the first for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta. He was often the only star on the Braves teams. In 1979, for example, Niekro tied his brother for the league lead with 21 wins while playing for a team that only won 66. During his tenure in Atlanta, Niekro was selected for five All-Star Teams, won five gold gloves, led the league in victories twice and earned run average once. He did poorly in Cy Young balloting, only earning votes five times.
Phil Niekro was also a key to the only two division titles Atlanta won before 1991. In 1969, he had a 23-13 season with a 2.56 ERA and finished second in Cy Young balloting to New York Mets sensation Tom Seaver. He lost his only appearance in the NLCS, as he and his Braves were swept by the Mets. In 1982, at the age of 43, Niekro led the Braves' pitching staff with a 17-4 season. On October 1, with the Braves clinging to a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Niekro beat the San Diego Padres almost single-handedly by throwing a complete game shutout and hitting a two run home run.
Niekro would start game one of the subsequent NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals and pitch well, but the game would be called on account of rain just before it became official. He pitched six innings of game two and left with a 3-2 lead. However, the Cardinals scored 2 runs off the bullpen to win the game and eventually sweep the series.
The Braves released the 45-year-old Niekro in 1984, who then signed with the New York Yankees and went on to win 16 games and make the last of his five All-Star appearances. It was while pitching for the Yankees that Niekro gained entry into the exclusive 300 win club with a shutout win over the Toronto Blue Jays on October 6, 1985. At 46, Niekro became the oldest pitcher to pitch a shutout in the major leagues, and became the only pitcher to throw a complete game shutout for his 300th win. Ironically, he did not throw his trademark knuckleball until the final hitter.
After two seasons in New York, Niekro pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays in 1986 and 1987. The Blue Jays released him after he pitched ineffectively, and as a publicity stunt and a last hurrah of sorts, the Braves brought him back for one last start to wrap up his career late in the 1987 season. At the age of 48, Niekro was the oldest player in major league history to play regularly until broken by Julio Franco, and his 24 seasons in the major leagues without a World Series appearance is a major league record. His total of 5,404? innings pitched is the most by any pitcher in the post-1920 live-ball era. He only appeared in the post season twice, making a playoff start in 1969 and again in 1982, both for Braves teams that would go on to lose the series.
After the end of his professional baseball career, Niekro managed the all-women Colorado Silver Bullets baseball team. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. Niekro tutored his nephew, Lance Niekro to throw a knuckleball after his unsuccessful stints with the San Francisco Giants.
Currently, Niekro is a member of the Kiz Toys Board of Advisors. Kiz Toys is a toy company based out of Cumming, Georgia, and Niekro consults with the company on the KizSport baseball line, reviewing product designs and development on an ongoing basis and offering suggestions on current and future products.