Baseball is full of tragic stories, of careers cut short by injury and illness
The second overall pick in the 1969 draft, J.R. Richard was a star on the rise. In his first major league game, he struck out 15 Giants—including Willie Mays thrice—in a 5-3 complete game victory. After cups of coffee with the Astros in 1971 and 1972, the young pitcher saw more playing time in 1973 and 1974, much in relief. In 1975 he was moved to the starting rotation and responded by winning 12 of his 31 starts to go along with a 4.39 ERA. Not overly impressive, but enough to keep him on the mound in the majors.
In 1976, the right-hander truly became a star, winning 20 games with a 2.75 ERA while striking out 214 batters. He followed that with three straight 18-win seasons, leading the National League in strikeouts in 1978 and 1979 and ERA in 1979. “I can recall what it was like when I was the most dominating pitcher, not one of. I was the man. That’s a feeling within itself when you’re a cut above.” According to similarity scores, durng his age 29 and 30 seasons, Richard was most similar to Bob Gibson, one of the most intimidating hurler of the 1960s.
In 1980, he was given the long overdue honor of being named a National League All-Star, starting in the midsummer classic. He flaunted his stuff, striking out future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Carlton Fisk along with pitcher Steve Stone over the course of two stellar innings, allowing no runs and only one hit. That game was played on July 8, 1980. Richard would only pitch in one more big league game.
On July 14, 1980, Houston hosted the Atlanta Braves with J.R. Richard on the mound. The pitcher struck out four Braves batters and only allowed one hit, but was lifted in the fourth inning due to vision problems and numbness in his fingers. He was placed on the disabled list, and on July 30 Richard suffered a stroke and collapsed on the field during warm-ups.
Richard attempted to come back, appearing in Houston’s minor league system in 1982 and 1983, but was never able to regain his intimidating form.
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