Hall of Fame Braves knuckleballer Phil Niekro dies at 81

Famer Phil Niekro's National Baseball Hall arrives for an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on Sunday, July 26, 2015 (AP Photo / Mike Groll).
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Atlanta Braves icon Phil Niekro, the master of the knuckle ball, which was anchored in Cooperstown in 1997, died overnight, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Sunday. He was 81 years old.
Niekro retired with 318 wins over 5,404 innings, the fourth best of all time and the greatest of all pitchers who started his career in the live ball era. He learned the unpredictable knuckle ball from his father as a young boy in Ohio in the 1940s and 1950s. After signing with the Braves in 1958, he defied the pitch until he was told by a baseball Hall of Fame manager of the minor league to throw the ankle or go home.
He did and usually went home the winner. He started 716 games, placing it fifth all-time, and received five All-Star Games and five Gold Glove awards. He threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on August 5, 1973.
"Phil Niekro was one of the most distinctive and memorable pitchers of his generation," said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement. "In the past century, Phil's 5,404 innings have not been thrown by a pitcher. His knuckle ball has taken him to five All-Star selections, three seasons of 20 wins for the Atlanta Braves, the club with 300 wins, and finally to Cooperstown.
"But even more than his signature pitch and branding, Phil will be remembered as one of the friendliest people in our game." He has always represented his sport extremely well and will be very much missed. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I would like to express my condolences to Phil's family, friends, and the many fans he has earned in our national pastime throughout his life. "
Niekro spent 21 of his 24 seasons in MLB with the Braves. He also played for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays. He finished his career with a record of 318-274 and an ERA of 3.35.
Niekro and his brother Joe, who also relied on the ankle ball, have the record for most vicotires by a brother combination of 539.
In the late 1990s, he spent his post-game days managing the Colorado Silver Bullets, a women's baseball team, and serving on the Board of Directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum since 2009.
"Phil Niekro's record on the field makes him one of the best pitchers in the game," said Jane Forbes Clark, chair of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Museum, in a statement. “As a mentor, leader and friend, Phil brought out the best of all of us in Cooperstown. In more than a decade as a member of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, his wisdom, compassion, and love of the game have been invaluable in shaping our decisions. On behalf of the Board of Directors and the staff of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I would like to offer our deep condolences to Nancy Niekro and the Niekro family. "
He received the Lou Gehrig Award in 1979, the Roberto Clemente Award in 1980 and the Brian Piccolo, a sport-wide humanitarian award, in 1980.
Niekro and his brother Joe, who also relied on the ankle ball, have the record for most vicotires by a brother combination of 539.
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