An Interview with J.R.
added 1/31/2001 by Ray Kerby
Thanks to the Honor J.R. campaign, I was fortunate enough to be put in contact with J.R. Richard himself. After a brief introduction, J.R. was gracious enough to answer a few questions and agreed to have them put up on The Astros Daily. I want to thank J.R. for being so willing and open, and I want to apologize to Astros fans everywhere for my brutally poor interviewing technique. My original plans involved putting up an audio file so you could hear the interview itself, but I quickly realized that a lot of editing would be required as our discussion changed topics back and forth. I did my best to ask all of the questions that I thought Astros fans would ask, but I am sure I left many good questions out. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:
RK: In high school you turned over 200 basketball scholarships to sign with the Astros. Is there a reason why you chose baseball over basketball?
JR: At that particular time I talked to a lot of my coaches and we decided that baseball would be the way to go. Being a middle-class black in those days, we didn't have that much money and the money looked real well at that time, and it was one of the things that helped me make that decision. I have no ill regrets; I'm glad I chose baseball but I think I could have been the first ballplayer to play two sports if I had really went that route because my abilities spoke for themselves. I felt very comfortable with basketball and baseball.
RK: Some of the things I've read about you in high school seem incredible...
JR: I didn't lose a game throughout my entire baseball career in high school.
RK: Did you pitch every game, or did they play you in different positions?
JR: I played outfield also. My thing was to be the very best in the world, to be second to none. That's the way I practiced and the way I played. I gave my best to be that, and it gave back to me.
RK: When you first came into the majors, was there a particular player you looked up to?
JR: I used to worship Bob Gibson when I was in high school, but then I started looking to myself as being what I should be and not what other people thought I should be.
RK: You had a lot of great moments in your career: the no-hitter in Cocoa, the 15 strikeouts in your first major-league start, 20 wins, 300 strikeouts...
JR: And I would have ended up with 300 strikeouts six or seven seasons in a row if I had kept on playing.
RK: (laugh) It's possible. If anyone could have done it, you could have.
JR: I think that I would have broken Nolan Ryan's record for strikeouts if my career hadn't ended.
RK: I dunno, JR. Did you see how many he ended up with?
JR: I don't care (laugh)
RK: I also remember the All-Star game that you started, and I still swear to this day they clocked you at 103 mph. Are there any of those great moments in your career that stand out more than the others?
JR: Well, what really stands out in my mind is when I struck out Reggie Jackson because it was power against power, with the best man coming out on top, and I wasn't backing down and he wasn't backing down.
RK: That was in the All-Star game?
JR: Yes, and fortunately I got a break. He was trying to catch up to the fastball, and luckily he swung and I got the K... luckily. That's one of the things that stand out in my mind. When I struck out 15 in my major-league debut, I didn't think nothing about that. In high school, I had done it so many times back-to-back, it wasn't a big thing. I had pitched so many no-hitters in high school, it was unbelievable.
RK: Another thing we point out in the Tribute is how you totally dominated the Dodgers throughout your career. Can you explain that incredible streak you had against them?
JR: I cannot pinpoint anything in particular. I didn't get up for the Dodgers any more than I got up for the Cincinnati Reds, the San Diego Padres, or any other ballclub. The main thing I got up for every game was to be the best that I could be. And unfortunately, some or most of them happened to be the Dodgers, and I wasn't going to be beat. And that was it.
RK: There were a lot of ugly rumors about you leading up to the time when you had the stroke...
JR: There's always going to be rumors. There was one thing out that it was drug-induced, but a hematologist checked my blood and the stroke was caused by a simple blood clot in my shoulder. I was such a powerful pitcher that the muscles in my right shoulder had overdeveloped and it was pressing a blood vessel against my [inaudible]. Everytime I would throw it would cause an irritation and it began blockage. But I kind of still blame it on the doctors because when they send the ballplayers in to take a medical it ain't about crap. They go in there and say "Are you hurting anywhere?". You say "no" and they check you off to keep on going.
RK: A lot of players in the Eighties were involved with drugs. Did you experiment with cocaine during the time leading up to the stroke?
JR: No, I did not. But when people can't find nothing on you, they begin to come up with something to condemn you.
JR: Well, I didn't have much of a personal relationship with Nolan Ryan; matter of fact, I didn't have too much of a personal relationship with anybody on the ballclub. I basically was a loner and I didn't bother nobody. If I messed with anybody on the ballclub, it was Enos (Cabell). He and I were real close at that time.
RK: I know you went through a period when your were homeless; who do you credit for helping you get out of that?
JR: A friend of mine named Chris Clark. He came by one day after work and saw me out there and he brought me home to live with him until I could stand on two feet. From then on, everything has been kind of peachy.
RK: Are you involved with baseball now in any way?
JR: Not at all. I do a little teaching every once in a while but I would really like to become a coach, possibly in the major leagues, because I think that I have a lot to offer them, knowledge-wise.
RK: What kind of a relationship do you have with the Astros now?
JR: Not too much of anything.
RK: Is there any legal action between you and the team right now?
JR: No, nothing.
RK: You pitched in the Old-Timer's Game a few years ago. How did that go over?
JR: That went real well. I enjoyed it, very much so.
RK: How do feel about your fans wanting to start up a campaign to get your number retired?
JR: (listen) Well I think that is unbelievably great. Definitely satisfying, it shows that some people out there still care in spite of what has happened and what people have done to you -- that somebody out there is still on your side. It makes me feel great, it makes me want to jump up and holler and I just feel just unbelievably glad and I will do whatever I can to see that they succeed.
RK: Is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans?
JR: Well, just keep me in your prayers. I'm doing fine and everything's gonna be alright. Regardless of how dimly it looks today, the sun will come up tomorrow and it's a new day.
RK: Thanks, JR.
JR: Thanks and God Bless.
I know it was brief, but I hope you enjoyed it! You can tell that J.R. is really excited that Houston fans still remember him and want to see him honored. Finally, I would like to personally thank Noe Banda and Kennie Y'Barbo for putting me in touch with J.R.