Depending on which ballplayer you ask, trying to hit a knuckleball thrown by Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro is either “like trying to eat Jello with chopsticks” or “like trying to eat soup with a fork” – neither of which sounds possible.
Niekro, a native of Blaine, Ohio, attended Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio, where the baseball field is named the Niekro Diamond after him and his younger brother, the late Joe Niekro (also a major league pitcher). The two learned to throw the knuckleball from their father in the backyard. Phil learned so well it earned him the nickname “Knucksie.
His 318 career victories are the most by a knuckleball pitcher, ranking him 16th on the overall all-time wins list.
He is a five-time winner of the National League Gold Glove Award.
He amassed 121 of his wins after the age of 40, a major league record. Because throwing the knuckleball is said to be easier on the arm than other forms of pitching, his longevity is attributed to that. At the age of 46 he became the oldest pitcher to pitch a shutout in the major leagues – a record that stood for 25 years.
His stellar career began in 1959 with the Atlanta Braves, where he continued until 1983. During that time he was chosen for five All-Star Teams, led the league in victories twice and in earned run average once. Following that he signed with the New York Yankees, later moving to the Cleveland Indians and then the Toronto Blue Jays. He wrapped up his career back with the Braves in 1987.
For the past 17 years, Niekro has lent his name and presence to The Phil Niekro Golf Classic, a community event in North Georgia raising funds for the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children, a non-profit organization that serves abused or neglected children. More recently he has hosted the Phil Niekro Skin and Fins Celebrity ProAm tournament, raising funds for Operation One Voice, a Georgia-based non-profit founded in the aftermath of 9/11 by police officers and firefighters. It supports the families of America’s wounded and fallen Special Operations Forces soldiers.