TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Former major league pitcher Joe Niekro, Houston’s career victory leader, died Friday, Astros president Tal Smith said. He 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. He had a real spark and a great sense of humor.”

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 in his career 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 359 major league victories, a record for brothers.


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