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Joe Niekro dies after aneurysm

The two-time 20-game winner who found longevity with the knuckleball was 61.

October 28, 2006|From the Associated Press

TAMPA, FLA. — Former major league pitcher Joe Niekro, Houston's all-time victory leader, died Friday, Astros President Tal Smith said. Niekro was 61.

The two-time 20-game winner suffered a brain aneurysm Thursday and was taken to South Florida Baptist Hospital in nearby Plant City, where he lived. He later was transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he died.

"It came as a real shock to us," Smith said. "He was a great guy."

Smith said Niekro did not have an active role with the Astros but kept in contact with many of his former Houston teammates.

Niekro, father of San Francisco Giants first baseman Lance Niekro, won 221 games but never became as well-known as his Hall of Fame brother, Phil.

Like his older brother, who won 318 games, Joe Niekro found success after developing the knuckleball and pitched into his 40s.

They had a combined 539 major league victories, a record for brothers.

Niekro won a franchise-best 144 games in 11 seasons with the Astros from 1975 to 1985, when he was traded to the New York Yankees. He was an All-Star in 1979, when he was 21-11 with a 3.00 earned-run average and followed up with a 20-12 record in 1980.

He beat the Dodgers in a one-game playoff that clinched Houston's first postseason berth in 1980. Seven years later, in his 21st season, he finally appeared in the World Series with the Minnesota Twins.

A third-round draft pick of the Cubs in 1966, he broke into the majors in 1967 and appeared in 702 games.

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