JR Richard, a tall and intimidating right-handed man who hit over 600 punches in two seasons for the Astros in a 10-year career interrupted by a stroke, died Wednesday at the age of 71.
James Rodney Richard, all 6-foot-8 by him, was drafted to number 2 overall in 1969, but although he slashed 15 clubs on his first start in the big league, he did not gain a full-time job as a starter until 1975. He was a dominant pitcher for the next 5 1/2 seasons, winning 20 games in 1976 and leading the majors in 1978-79 strikeouts and ERA in ’79. He threw a 100 mph fastball and a sharp break and led the majors three times in wild fields, making it all the harder for him to face.
“Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons, JR Richard,” said the Astros on Thursday as they acknowledge Richard’s death. “JR will forever be remembered as the intimidating figure on the hill and one of the greatest throwers in the club’s history. He has stood side by side with club icons Larry Dierker, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan to form some of the best rotations in club history. Unfortunately, his playing career was interrupted by health problems, but his 10 years in an Astros uniform is a decade of excellence. We extend our condolences to JR’s wife Lula, his family, friends and countless fans and admirers. “
Richard had a record of 107-71 with 3.15 ERA and 76 complete games. He won 18 or more games in four consecutive seasons (1976-79). In 1978, he became the first Astros pitcher to hit 303 300 strikeouts in one season, a record he broke with 313 strikeouts the following season.
On the Astros all-time lists, Richard ranks second in career ERA (3.15), third in strikeouts (1,493), fourth in full games (76) and fifth in wins (107 ) and shutouts (19). In 2019, he was part of the first class to be inducted into the Astros Hall of Fame.
In 1980, with a record of 10-4, an ERA of 1.90, and recently named the National League Starting Pitcher in the All-Star Game, Richard complained of a “dead” and deaf pitching arm. After Richard was put on the disabled list, Richard collapsed on July 30th during a pre-game catch. He had suffered a stroke due to a massive blockage in his right carotid artery that required emergency surgery. He attempted a comeback that lasted until 1984; he has never pitched in any other major league game.
“I’ve known JR for a long time,” said Enos Cabell, who was an Astros team-mate for several seasons. “I played against him in the minor leagues and then we were team-mates at the Astros for many years. He was one of the best pitchers we’ve ever had and would likely have been inducted into the Hall of Fame if his career hadn’t been abandoned. On the hill it was devastating and intimidating. Nobody wanted to face him. The guys on the other team would say they are sick so as not to face him. This is very sad news. He will be missed. “
“JR was one of my good friends,” said Jose Cruz, another longtime Astros team-mate. “It’s very sad to hear. I have great memories of JR. He was one of the greatest astros of all time. When he was pitching, we knew we were going to get a ‘W’. I didn’t get too many balls in the outfield when he was throwing because he was so dominant. He was a great friend and a great teammate. I offer my condolences to his wife and children. “