Former Astros All-Star pitcher J.R. Richard, one of the most dominant and intimidating picthers of his era, died, the team announced on Thursday. He was 71.
The Astros said in an official statement, “Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons. J.R. will forever be remembered as an intimidating figure on the mound and as one of the greatest pitchers in club history.”
Describing Richard as dominant is a gross understatement. He was describedas a flame-thrower because of the incredible velocity on his fastball. BUt that bread-and-butter pitch, which some have called “electric,” was made even more effective by the deadly precision of his slider.
Richard regularly overpowered hitters during his powerful, yet brief career in the late 1970s. In fact, in 1978, he led the majors with 303 strikeouts, becoming the first right-handed pitcher in MLB history to strike out 300 batters in a season. And he topped those numbers the very next year, logging in 313 Ks (strike outs). That Astros single-season record stood for 40 years until Gerrit Cole, now with the Yankees, broke it.
“He stood shoulder to shoulder with club icons Larry Dierker, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan, to form a few of the best rotations in club history. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and fans,” said the Astros’ statement.
The towering 6’8″ Richard debuted in 1971, but didn’t become the hurler who struck fear even into the games best hitters at the time, until 1976, considered his breakout season. That year, he compiled a 20–15 record with a 2.75 ERA. From that year until his 1980 Richard was arguably the most effective and most feared pitchers in the MLB. From 1976-80, Richard led all starters with a 2.79 ERA.
In 1980, in the middle of his best season ever, Richard was working out at the Astrodome when he collapsed and suffered a stroke. He never pitched in the majors again, brining his career to a much too soon end.
Surgeons removed a life-threatening blood clot from the junction of two arteries in his neck. Incredibly, just four days prior to his stroke, doctors told him that the clot which was eventually removed was not dangerous. Unfortunately, it was.
Richard did attempt to make a comeback. However, with a stroke-induced slowed down reaction time and problematic depth perception, even though he spent a few seasons in the minor leagues attempting his comeback, the Astros released him in 1984.
Richard finished his major league career with a 107–71 record, 1,493 strikeouts and a 3.15 ERA in 238 games; numbers that are even more impressive when considering he pitched less that four whole seasons. Still, Richard’s name remains scattered all over the Astros’ all-time record book where he ranks second in ERA, third in strikeouts, fourth in complete games (76) and fifth in wins (107) and shutouts (19), numbers he comprised in technically just three-and-a-half seasons.