JR Richard, fireball thrower whose career was cut short, dies at 71
JR Richard, a right-handed flame thrower whose distinguished career with the Houston Astros was cut short by a stroke in 1980, died Wednesday. He was 71 years old.
The Astros announced his death but did not give a cause or indicate where he died.
Richard was one of baseball’s most intimidating pitchers in the late 1970s. He was 6ft 8in tall, his fastball was approaching 100 miles an hour, and his long stride towards home plate made him appear uncomfortably close to the ball. hitters. He also had a devastating cursor.
“When he pushes that mound,” Pittsburgh Pirate slugger Dave Parker says Sports Illustrated in 1978, “he looks like he’s 10 feet away from you instead of 60. It makes you lean a bit and think you need to hit the bat faster.”
After a few years in the minor leagues, Richard became full-time member of the Astros starting the rotation in 1975. Over the next four seasons, he won 74 games and led baseball twice in strikeouts (with 303 in 1978 and 313 in 1979) and once earned-run average (with 2.71 in 1979). He could be wild; in 1976, he walked 151 batters.
He was throwing well in 1980 but hadn’t completed as many games as he thought he would when, in mid-June, he began to feel fatigue in his throwing arm – although that didn’t stop him from starting the game. All-Star Game July 8. (He struck out three at bat in two innings.)
On his next start, however, he appeared lethargic, felt nauseous, and had trouble seeing his receiver’s signals. After three innings and a third, he left the match.
At the time, he was 10-4 with an Era of 1.90
After Richard was placed on the disabled list, tests found a clot that blocked primary circulation to his throwing arm. His medics chose not to operate, fearing it would interfere with his ability to throw, but they let him practice. On July 30, while playing wrestling at the Astrodome, he experienced a series of cascading symptoms that added to a stroke.
In “Still Throwing Heat: Strikeouts, the Streets, and a Second Chance” (2015, with Lew Freedman), he recalls: “All of a sudden I felt a high pitched sound echoing in my left ear. And then I threw a few more throws and got nauseous. A few minutes later I threw a few more throws and then the feeling got so bad I lost my balance. I went down on the AstroTurf. I had a headache, some confusion in my mind, and I felt weakness in my body.
He was taken to hospital, where he was found to have no pulse in his carotid artery. Surgeons performed emergency surgery to remove a clot from the junction of two arteries in Richard’s neck.
The discovery that Richard had a fatal illness was proof that he was not lazy, as some members of the press and fans had said, and that his complaints of arm fatigue should have been taken more seriously.
“Deep in my heart, I knew something was wrong,” Richard said in his autobiography. “At the time, I was pretty much the best pitcher in baseball. Why wouldn’t I want to throw?
James Rodney Richard was born March 7, 1950 in Vienna, Louisiana. His father, James Clayton Richard, was a lumber leveler. Her mother, Elizabeth (Frost) Richard, was an elementary school cook.
In high school, Richard played baseball and football and turned down many college scholarships to play basketball. He was selected by the Astros as second in the Major League Baseball entry draft. He played in the Houston minor league system and when he was first called to the Astros in 1971, he made a promising start against the San Francisco Giants: he netted 15 strikeouts, including three by Willie Mays.
He definitively joined the Astros in July 1974.
“Nobody wanted to face him” his teammate Enos Cabell said in a statement released Thursday by the Astros. “The guys on the other team would say they were sick to avoid facing him.”
In 1980, the Astros added Nolan Ryan to their rotation, posted a 93-70 record and advanced to the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. (The Astros joined the American League in 2013.)
The Astros advanced without Richard, who never pitched for them again. He attempted a comeback but after 21 games in the Astros’ minor league system he was released in 1983.
He had a hard time after that. He lost money in business ventures and got divorced twice. During part of 1994 and 1995, he was homeless, living under a bridge in Houston. A great man, it was not difficult for people to recognize.
“First of all, they can’t believe it, then no one would really want to bother you” he told Boston public radio station WBUR’s Bill Littlefield in 2015. “They would probably look at you and say, ‘OK, he doesn’t sound like a happy camper.’ I looked like I wasn’t a man to be played with at the time.
He got help from a local pastor and the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps destitute former players. He found a job in construction and eventually became minister in a church, where he helped the homeless and taught baseball to children. (Complete information on the survivors was not immediately available.)
Richard said his stroke affected his left side reflexes and sometimes his speech. But he never forgot what it was like to dominate hitters.
“It was awesome to be in control,” he told the New York Times in 2015. “You didn’t fear anyone. You had respect for them as a human being; they could hit a home run as well as you could take them out. But I felt like I was the baddest lion in the valley.
Alex Traub contributed reporting.