HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM/CBS SPORTS) – Houston Astros legend J.R. Richard has died, the team announced on Thursday, August 5.
Richard, who was selected by the Astros 2nd overall in the 1969 amateur draft and posted consecutive 300+ strikeout seasons, was 71.
“Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons, J.R. Richard,” the Astros said in a statement. “J.R. will forever be remembered as an intimidating figure on the mound and as one of the greatest pitchers in club history. 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. Sadly, his playing career was cut short by health issues, but his 10 years in an Astros uniform stand out as a decade of excellence. We send our heartfelt condolences to J.R.’s wife, Lula, his family, friends and countless fans and admirers.”
Richard, a right-handed pitcher, was raised in Louisiana and he turned down multiple college basketball scholarships offers to pursue baseball after being drafted by the Astros.
He made a great first impression, striking out 15 batters in a complete game win over the San Francisco Giants in his major league debut on September 5, 1971.
The 15 strikeouts are tied with Karl Spooner for the most in an MLB debut.
It wasn’t until 1974 that Richard joined the rotation full-time and stuck in the big leagues for good.
“J.R. was one of my good friends,” longtime Astros teammate Jose Cruz said in a statement. “This is very sad to hear. I have great memories of J.R. He was one of the greatest Astros ever. When he was pitching, we knew that we were going to get a ‘W.’ I didn’t get too many balls hit to me in the outfield when he pitched because he was so dominating. He was a great friend and a great teammate. I send my condolences to his wife and kids.”
From 1975-80, Richard was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
He posted a 3.01 ERA in more than 1,400 innings those seasons, and during his peak from 1976-79, Richard pitched to a 2.88 ERA and averaged 18.5 wins with 261 strikeouts and more than 280 innings per season.
Richard struck out 303 batters in 1978 and 313 in 1979.
Richards’ career ended prematurely in 1980 when he suffered a stroke on the Astrodome field before a game.
He attempted to come back, but never played in a major league game again.
After his playing days, Richard fell on hard times.
A series of bad investments, failed businesses and a divorce left him broke, and he was homeless for a couple of years in the mid-90s.
He eventually got his life back on track and worked as a minister in his later years.