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Hall of Famer, former Yankees pitcher Phil Niekro dies at age 81

Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro has died at age 81.

Niekro played an astonishing 24 years in MLB, and the reason he was able to pitch until 48 years old was because his mastering of the most unhittable pitch in the game: The knuckleball. He was affectionately known as “Knucksie” because of it.

“Phil Niekro was one of the most distinctive and memorable pitchers of his generation,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a prepared statement. “In the last century, no pitcher threw more than Phil’s 5,404 innings. His knuckleball led him to five All-Star selections, three 20-win seasons for the Atlanta Braves, the 300-win club, and ultimately, to Cooperstown.”

Niekro played two seasons later on in his career with the Yankees in the 1984 and 1985 seasons, owning a career 3.59 ERA during that span with an All-Star Game berth in ’84. He also became the oldest player at 46 to pitch a shutout in ’85.

But Niekro is in the Hall of Fame as a Brave given his legendary career with the organization. Making his debut in 1964 with the then-Milwaukee Braves, Niekro spent 21 years with the franchise, etching his name among the team’s legends like Hank Aaron along the way. The sidearm pitcher owned a career 3.20 ERA and had 268 career wins, as some of the best hitters in the game couldn’t even figure out the dancing ball coming their way 60 feet and six inches away.

Niekro would finally retire in 1987, rejoining the Braves to finish out the way he came in. He would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 after receiving 380 of 473 votes.