James Rodney "J.R." Richard, #50

"He had the greatest stuff I have ever seen and it still gives
me goosebumps to think of what he might have become"

Joe Morgan, Hall of Famer

(c) Houston Astros

The tragic story of J.R. Richard is one that deserves to be told and retold for as long as the sport of baseball survives. Much like the timeless Greek tragedies written thousands of years ago, it is the story of a great figure brought to ruin at the height of his glory by forces beyond his control. When people talk of J.R., their conversations will inevitably end with an unanswerable series of "What If?" scenarios. Would the Astros have gone to the World Series in 1980? Would J.R. have struck out 300 batters again? Would he have won the Cy Young? Would he have been a Hall of Famer?

James Rodney Richard was born on March 7, 1950 in Rustin, Louisiana. Growing up, his great height and athleticism allowed him to excel in sports. By his senior year at Lincoln High, Richard was a giant among his schoolmates, standing at 6'8" and weighing 220 pounds. As a result, he dominated in both basketball and baseball. An overpowering right-handed pitcher, J.R. did not allow any runs in his Senior season -- period. His teammates knew that he could swing a mean bat as well. In one game, he hit four consecutive home runs while pitching his team to a 48-0 drubbing against a local rival. Upon graduation, J.R. turned down over 200 basketball scholarship offers to sign with the Houston Astros, a rising team that had made him their first-round pick in the 1969 Summer draft.

It did not take long for the Astros to realize the incredible talent they had on their hands. J.R. was not polished, but could overpower the opposition when he was able to find the plate. Though he walked 68 batters in only 109 innings in his first full minor-league season, he also struck out 138 batters and threw a no-hitter. His fastball was explosive and often reached 100 mph. But more devastating than his fastball was his slider. J.R.'s slider could reach 93 mph, faster than most major-league fastballs. And because of his reputation for wildness, hitters were unwilling to dig in against the slider.

A late-season callup in 1971, the 21-year-old Richard made his major-league debut against the San Francisco Giants and immediately caught the attention of the baseball world. In his first game, the giant rookie tied Karl Spooner's record by striking out 15 batters in his major-league debut. But J.R.'s wildness bounced him between the majors and the minors for several years as the team tried to remain competitive in the National League West. In 1974, however, J.R. would post an 0.00 ERA in 33 innings in the team's AAA affiliate in Denver, forcing the team to keep him on the major-league roster for good. He was still wild, but there was no longer any doubt about his future with the team.

(c) Houston Astros
In 1975, the Astros were rebuilding and gave J.R. a full-time spot in the starting rotation. Even though the team slumped to its worst record in franchise history, 64-97, Richard's 12-10 mark was the only winning record among the starters. Although this might represent a good start for most pitchers, it would be the following season in which J.R. would claim his place among the elite pitchers in baseball. It started innocently enough, with J.R. unseating another Astro great, Larry Dierker, as the opening-day starter for the team. Beginning his season with an 11-5 blowout loss to the defending World Champion Cincinnati Reds, Richard quickly rebounded with a shutout against the Giants and his way to five consecutive wins. Even though the team floundered around .500 most of the season, J.R. slowly accumulated wins. After winning his 18th game with only seven games remaining, J.R. pitched twice more, allowing only one run in two complete games to finish as only the second Astro pitcher to win 20 games in a season. During a year in which the Astros finished more than 20 games behind the Cincinnati Reds, J.R. had given the hometown fans something to cheer about all of the way until the last day of the season. In addition, his 2.75 ERA was 7th in the league and his 214 strikeouts were second-best.

Fresh off of his 20-win season, J.R. would post another solid season in 1977, finishing with an 18-12 record, a 2.97 ERA and 214 strikeouts yet again. It was the first time that any Astros starter had won at least 18 games in back-to-back seasons, yet J.R. would go on to win at least 18 games for four consecutive seasons. As a follow-up to this performance, J.R. raised his game up to another level in 1978. Although the team could not reach the .500 mark, Richard kept Astros fans excited in the final weeks of September. He was not chasing 20 wins this time, but 300 strikeouts. In his final start of the season against Atlanta on September 29, J.R. would reach that plateau by striking out Rowland Office in the second inning.

It was 1979, however, that would turn out to be J.R.'s finest full season in the majors. After getting off to a slow start, Richard won 11 of his last 13 decisions to finish with an 18-13 record. In addition, he led the league with a 2.71 ERA and set a new personal high with 313 strikeouts. J.R.'s fame was now undeniable; he had joined Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax as the only modern-era pitchers to strike out 300 batters in consecutive seasons. But despite leading the league in ERA and strikeouts, J.R.'s 18 wins were not enough to win the Cy Young Award. Instead, he finished third in the voting behind reliever Bruce Sutter and teammate Joe Niekro, who had won 21 games.

We have now reached the "Greek tragedy" chapter of the story of J.R. Richard. At this point, he seemed unstoppable. Batters were striking out in record numbers against him. Richard was racking up win after win after win. On Opening Day in 1980, J.R. was only 30 years old and had already achieved greater success than any other Astros pitcher in history. But something was about to go terribly wrong, and this is the part of the story that Astros fans are all too familiar with. Opening Day went as expected. J.R. ushered in the new season against the Dodgers, retiring the first 19 batters he faced before finishing with a two-hit victory. In his next start, he would pitch five scoreless innings against Atlanta before leaving with shoulder stiffness and a no-decision. If this was a harbinger of things to come, nobody recognized it yet. His third start was brilliant. Dominating the Dodgers once again, Richard threw the only one-hitter of his major-league career, allowing only a fourth-inning infield single to Reggie Smith.

After that, though, Richard would begin to take himself out of games early, complaining about a variety of ailments: shoulder stiffness, back stiffness, forearm stiffness, a "dead arm". Nobody complained, though, because he was still winning. By the All-Star break, J.R. was leading the league with a 10-4 record, a 1.89 ERA, and 119 strikeouts. In fact, the "talk" about J.R. was much more insidious. What started as whispers soon worked its way into the mainstream media. Some accused him of being jealous of Nolan Ryan's new $1 million salary, even though J.R. was making $850,000 himself and had never complained about Ryan's contract. There was also talk that he was "loafing", even though he had not missed a single start in the five years preceding 1980. Some suggested that he couldn't handle the pennant-race pressure with Los Angeles, blindly ignoring the fact that he had gone 11-2 during the 1979 pennant stretch run against Cincinnati. Much of the talk had racial undertones, and that cannot be ignored. It is just inconceivable that this kind of rumor-mongering would have occurred if instead Nolan Ryan had been taking himself out of games early.

Finally, though, J.R.'s career came crashing down. After complaining of dizziness on July 14, Richard was placed on the Disabled List and underwent a battery of tests. Some arterial blockage was found in his right shoulder, but it was not deemed to be serious. In fact, the team doctor suggested that Richard's problems might be emotional in nature. Just days later, on July 30, J.R. collapsed during pre-game throwing drills with Wilbur Howard and was rushed to Southern Methodist Hospital. It turned out after all that he wasn't lying, he wasn't faking, he wasn't loafing, and his problems were not emotional in nature. J.R. had suffered a major stroke and would have died that day without emergency surgery. When reporters asked about the condition of J.R.'s arm, the doctors replied that they were interested in saving his life, not his arm.

After more surgery in September, J.R. went about the business of recovering and returning to baseball. It was not meant to be. His left side had been partially paralyzed and he was unable to re-learn the coordination required to pitch effectively. After a partial season in the minor leagues in 1982, he was quietly released by the team. With the loss of his fame and income, J.R.'s personal life spiraled downward as well. He lost over $300,000 in a business scam and almost $700,000 in a divorce. With no money, Richard found out how rare true friends really are. While people were asking themselves, "Whatever happened to J.R.?", Richard was too proud to ask for help and eventually found himself homeless and living under an interstate bridge. But when his plight became known, his friends rushed to his assistance. In 1995, J.R. returned to the game that had once turned its back on him by making an appearance in the Old-Timer's Game.

Recognition Long Overdue

(c) Houston Astros
Note: I wrote this article in February, 2000, to make the case for retiring J.R. Richard's jersey. Since I felt it was appropriate for this tribute, I have reproduced it here, modifying some of the references that have become dated.

Twenty years is a long time. Very few players are able to play in the major leagues for this length of time. Twenty years is long enough for good players to rise to prominence and fade to obscurity, forgotten by the younger generation of fans. On July 30th of the 2000 season, the Houston Astro organization will pass an important 20th anniversary in the franchise.

Does anyone remember what happened on July 30, 1980? Does anyone know whose name is absent from the list of Astros who have had their uniforms retired: Jim Umbricht, Don Wilson, Jose Cruz, Mike Scott, and Nolan Ryan? It is time for the 20-year snub of J.R. Richard to end. The organization needs to honor his accomplishments and retire his #50 now, before the passage of time fades the memory of the most dominant pitcher to wear an Astros uniform.

J.R. Richard was an 6'8" right-hander drafted as a first-round pick in 1969. There was never any doubt in his major-league potential, but only in his ability to control his overpowering arsenal. He bounced between the minors and the big leagues for several seasons, but became a permanent fixture in the rotation in 1975. In 1976, he became the second Astros pitcher to ever win 20 games, and won 18 in each of the next three seasons. In 1978, he became the first NL right-hander to strike out 300 batters. In 1979, he repeated that feat while winning the ERA title. He held opposing batters to the lowest batting average in the league in 1976, 1978 and 1979. Selected as the All-Star starter in 1980, he was leading the league in wins, strikeouts, ERA and shutouts when he was stricken by a career-ending stroke on July 30th. At his peak, he was clearly the most dominating pitcher in the NL, with a fastball exceeding 100 mph and a slider that zipped in at 92 mph.

First of all, let there be no doubt that the accomplishments of J.R. exceeded that of all other Astros pitchers. For example, which of these pitchers has the most impressive record:

Pitcher       W-L    ERA   GS
Don Wilson  104-92  3.15  245 
Mike Scott  110-81  3.31  259 
Nolan Ryan  106-94  3.13  282 
JR Richard  107-71  3.16  221 

(c) Houston Astros
All four pitchers have won about the same number of games. Richard gets a plus because he lost fewer games than the others. Mike Scott gets a minus because his ERA is worse than the others, which are amazingly close. And finally, Richard gets another plus because his accomplishments were achieved in fewer starts. Richard and Don Wilson both deserve special consideration because their careers were cut short at their peak.

It would be dishonest to not point out that Nolan Ryan's won-lost record was negatively affected by poor run support, as evidenced by his infamous 8-16 record in 1987. However, keep in mind that J.R. would have to suffer through an incredibly unlucky 0-23 season for his won-lost record to be comparable to Ryan's.

In many ways, J.R. was very much like Don Wilson. Both were young, hard-throwing pitchers that achieved success for mediocre Astros teams. Wilson still holds the team record with 18 strikeouts in a single game, while Richard struck out 15 batters in his major-league debut in 1971. Wilson was just 29 years old in his final season, before his life ended suddenly after the 1974 season. His jersey was retired on opening day in 1975. J.R. was clearly more talented than Wilson and achieved greater success as an Astro, and his career was also abruptly ended at the age of 30. Fortunately, J.R. survived the stroke but was unable to pitch again in the majors. In a macabre irony, his jersey would have undoubtedly been retired if the stroke had been fatal.

It should be argued that Mike Scott's jersey was retired not simply for his statistical achievements, but for his stellar 1986 season in which he won the Cy Young Award and almost single-handedly led his team to the World Series. Scott was the undisputed ace of the staff from 1985-1989, a five-year stretch representing the peak of his career. Richard was the undisputed ace of the of the staff from 1976-1980, a four-and-a-half-year stretch that ended with his stroke. A comparison of Richard and Scott's performance in the "glamor" categories during their reign as staff aces:

                Scott   Richard
Won 20 games        1         1
All-Star starter    1         1
ERA leader          1         1 (was also leading NL in ERA in 1980)
Strikeout leader    1         2 (was also leading NL in strikeouts in 1980)
Playoff app.        1         0 (missed team's first playoff appearance in 1980)
Cy Young            1         0

As you can see, Richard matches or beats Scott in almost every category except the final two. Of course, J.R. was leading his team to the playoffs in 1980 when he was felled. It's not hard to imagine how differently the 1980 playoffs against Philadelphia would have turned out if J.R. were healthy. That series was arguably the closest in baseball history, with the final four games all decided in extra innings. Does anyone doubt that adding the league's best pitcher to the Astros' staff would have resulted in anything less than the team's first World Series appearance?

Even the Cy Young Award was denied Richard. In 1979, he was clearly the best starter in the NL, leading the league in ERA and strikeouts while pitching an incredible 292 innings. But in a bizarre twist of fate, his teammate Joe Niekro parleyed greater run support into 21 victories, three more than Richard's total. Niekro also had the advantage of having a hot first-half, while Richard was better in the second half. On July 23rd, Niekro sported a 14-5 record while J.R. was floundering at 7-11. But from that point onward, Niekro went 7-6 while J.R. went 11-2. This strong finish apparently split the Cy Young voters between Niekro and Richard and resulted in the pair placing 2nd and 3rd among voters. As a result, a relief pitcher, Bruce Sutter, won the award over the two more-deserving starters. Inexplicably, Niekro was named by The Sporting News as the Pitcher of the Year over Richard. And lest you think that I am merely showing favoritism for Richard, here is a quick comparison of their 1979 seasons:

           Richard   Niekro   Advantage:
Wins            18       21   Niekro
ERA           2.71     3.00   Richard
Innings        292      264   Richard (both had 38 starts)
Hits allowed   220      221   Richard (despite more innings)
Runs allowed    98      102   Richard
Strikeouts     313      119   Richard
Walks           98      107   Richard
Complete Games  19       11   Richard

It is pretty amazing how Richard's season was superior to Niekro's in almost every category but yet Niekro received the majority of accolades, including being named the team's MVP for the season. Richard even allowed fewer hits, walks and runs despite pitching 28 more innings. The only advantage for Niekro are the three additional victories. I think that modern-day voters would have clearly given the nod to Richard over Niekro, as evidenced by 1998's Cy Young race between Mike Hampton and Randy Johson. In fact, Mike Scott won his 1986 Cy Young award in similar fashion: leading the league in ERA and strikeouts while finishing three wins behind the league leader.

Considering that Richard's career in Houston was comparable or better than that of Scott, Ryan, or Niekro, it is hard to justify not retiring his jersey. But the reality is that if it has not happened yet, then it will not happen in the future unless the Astro organization is convinced that Richard has been unjustly overlooked. In another twenty years, the greatness and tragedy of his career could be forgotten by the next generation. He deserves better.

Sometimes the myths and legends are true

(c) Topps
When talking to older Astros fans about J.R. Richard, one subject that invariably comes up is Richard's legendary domination of the Los Angeles Dodgers. When first hearing the stories and anecdotes, it is easy to walk away, shaking one's head and muttering about how the passage of time can exaggerate memories. The anecdotes about J.R. and the Dodgers are many and typically involve knee-buckling sliders and dumbfounded Dodger batters walking back to the dugout after being shut out yet again. But these legendary shutouts are not simply scoreless games, but one-hitters and two-hitters with 10, 11, 12 strikeouts and sometimes more. From the way the old-timers talk, they would have you believe that simply placing Richard's glove on the mound would guarantee a victory.

Even though I watched (or listened to) J.R. pitch against the Dodgers many times in my youth, I decided to do some hard investigation. After all, my memory is just as susceptible to the passage of time as anyone else's, so maybe Richard's myth grew after he was struck down in his prime.

The first place I looked for material was from the old Astros media guides. With some persistance, I have been able to acquire every media guide for the franchise since 1963. They are often a valuable source of reference material, and here are some of the quotes I found:

(c) Houston Astros
1974 guide - "Had outstanding games against Los Angeles on August 1 (nine innings, no runs, five hits, nine strikeouts) and Pittsburgh on August 20 (nine innings, two runs, two hits, nine strikeouts)... "
1977 guide - "had three complete games in four outings vs. Los Angeles (with an ERA of 0.61 in those games)... "
1978 guide - "Racked up 12 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over LA, 7/6... In 27.2 innings vs. Dodgers, he struck out 33... "
1979 guide - "Started season with Opening Day loss in Cinn. on 4/9, then halted Astros five-game losing start with a two-hit shutout over L.A., 1-0, on 4/11... "
1980 guide - "Set modern major league record with six wild pitches in one game, vs. L.A. on 4/10. He won game, 2-1... Was 4-0 vs. the Dodgers in 1979, giving him 11 straight wins vs. L.A. J.R.'s last loss to the Dodgers came on 6/23/76, when he tossed a two-hitter but lost, 1-0...
1981 guide - "Opened season with 6.1 perfect innings and a two-hitter over eight to defeat the Dodgers, 3-2, on 4/10. Strains back running bases and leaves after eight... Allowed only a Reggie Smith infield single in tossing a one-hitter @ L.A. on 4/19; victory was 13th straight winning decision vs. the Dodgers... "

It is obvious from the guides that Richard did have a lot of success against the Dodgers, at least for the games mentioned. The guides mention three two-hitters and a one-hitter, along with at least an 11-game winning streak. Certainly this sampling gives credence to the myth. But it my eternal quest for more baseball information, I turned to David Smith of the Retrosheet organization. This is a fine, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and publishing the play-by-play records of as many major league games as they can find. Fortunately for fans, they have been very successful and are also receptive to requests for information about particular seasons that have not yet been made available to the public.

From Retrosheet, I received the box score of all 23 games that J.R. Richard started against the Dodgers. Here is a listing of the pitching line in each start for Richard and his mound opponent:

Date     Score Houston         IP  H  R ER BB SO     Los Angeles      IP  H  R ER BB SO
07/27/73  5-2  Richard J      4.0  3  2  2  0  8     Downing A (L)   6.2  6  4  3  3  7
10/01/74  5-8  Richard J (L)  6.0  8  5  5  4  9     Sutton D (W)    5.0  4  0  0  2  4
09/21/75  4-1  Richard J (W)  9.0  8  1  1  1  8     Rhoden R (L)    3.1  8  4  3  1  0
09/26/75  2-3  Richard J (L)  8.1  2  3  3  4  5     Hooton B (W)    9.0  5  2  2  1  5
04/21/76  1-0  Richard J     10.0  4  0  0  3  7     John T          7.0  8  0  0  3  3
05/21/76  1-2  Richard J (L)  8.0  8  2  2  0  7     Hooton B (W)    9.0  6  1  1  1  5
06/23/76  0-1  Richard J (L)  8.0  2  1  1  5  5     Rhoden R (W)    9.0  3  0  0  3  2
08/04/76  1-0  Richard J (W)  9.0  6  0  0  3 10     Rau D (L)       8.0  4  1  1  2  2
09/28/76  1-0  Richard J (W)  9.0  3  0  0  0  5     Hooton B (L)    8.0  4  1  0  3  3
05/26/77  3-4  Richard J      8.2  7  3  3  7  7     Hooton B        9.0  6  3  3  2  7
05/31/77  5-2  Richard J (W)  9.0  7  2  2  2  2     Hooton B (L)    6.1  4  5  5  5  5        
07/06/77  2-1  Richard J     10.0  6  1  1  2 12     Rhoden R       10.0  7  1  1  1  6
10/02/77  6-3  Richard J (W)  9.0  4  3  3  2 14     Castillo R      6.0  8  2  2  0  4
04/11/78  1-0  Richard J (W)  9.0  2  0  0  4  8     Hooton B (L)    6.0  4  1  1  0  2
04/21/78  8-6  Richard J      4.0  5  4  4  4  5     Rhoden R        6.1  7  5  4  1  1
06/20/78  5-3  Richard J (W)  7.1  6  2  2  4  7     John T (L)      5.0  8  5  2  3  3
07/09/78  5-1  Richard J (W)  9.0  4  1  1  6 12     Sutton D (L)    6.0  7  5  3  1  7
04/10/79  2-1  Richard J (W)  9.0  6  1  1  4 13     Hooton B (L)    6.0  4  2  2  1  5
07/29/79  4-3  Richard J (W)  9.0  5  3  3  5  8     Hooton B        8.0  9  3  3  2  5
08/08/79  4-1  Richard J (W)  9.0  6  1  1  2 12     Hooton B (L)    5.0  5  4  2  1  5
09/29/79  3-0  Richard J (W)  7.0  3  0  0  2 11     Reuss J (L)     8.0 11  3  1  2  5
04/10/80  3-2  Richard J (W)  8.0  2  2  1  0 13     Hooton B (L)    2.0  4  3  3  0  1
04/19/80  2-0  Richard J (W)  9.0  1  0  0  3 12     Welch B (L)     8.0  2  2  2  2  5

(c) Houston Astros
J.R. did not become a regular member of the starting rotation until 1975. In his 21 starts since 1975, J.R made 20 "quality" starts (6+ IP, 3 ER or less), and pitched at least eight innings in 18 of those 21 starts. In those 18 starts, J.R. allowed four or fewer hits ten times. He struck out 10 or more batters in nine of those starts. His best effort against LA came in his final start against the team, a dominating 12-strikeout performance in which Dodgers could only manage an infield single.

Pity Burt Hooton, now currently the pitching coach for the Astros. Hooton faced off against Richard in ten of the 23 starts Richard made against the Dodgers. Hooton fared well early, winning his first two starts against J.R., but quickly wilted once the giant right-hander became the premier pitcher in the National League. Hooton finished with a 2-6 record in his ten starts despite posting an impressive 2.90 ERA in 68 innings against the Astros.

Richard's five starts against the Dodgers in 1976 were truly amazing. Four of the games were decided 1-0, and the fifth was decided 2-1. Despite allowing only three runs in 44 innings, a 0.61 ERA, Richard finished only 2-2 against LA that season. Richard's only two victories were nine-inning shutouts, and a 10-inning shutout effort came in a 16-inning, 1-0 that left J.R. with a no-decision.

Richard truly was unstoppable against the Dodgers. His total pitching line over the 23 starts:

                   W   L   Pct   ERA   GS      IP    H   R  ER  BB   SO    
Dodgers only      14   4  .778  1.72   23   188.1  108  37  36  67  200
all other teams   93  67  .581  3.34  215  1417.2 1119 588 526 703 1293

When starting against the Dodgers, Richard's ERA was almost half that against all other teams, which is truly impressive across a seven-year span. Perhaps it was the combination of always starting in a pitcher-friendly park (the Astrodome or Dodger Stadium), or maybe it was merely Richard's overpowering slider making mincement of the predominantly right-handed Dodger lineup. Either way, the conclusion is clear: whenever you hear an old-timer tell you what seems to be a wild story about J.R. dominating the Dodgers, believe it.

For reference, here are the box scores for every J.R. start against the Dodgers.

Awards and Honors

(c) Topps
1976 - Houston Astros Most Valuable Player
1978 - named National League Player of the Week - week ending May 21st
1978 - named National League Pitcher of the Month - July
1979 - named National League Pitcher of the Month - September
1979 - selected to Associated Press post-season All-Star team
1979 - selected to UPI post-season All-Star team
1980 - named National League Pitcher of the Month - April
1980 - named to National League All-Star team

Professional Baseball Record

 Year  Club             W   L   PCT   G  GS  CG SHO SV   IP      H    R   ER   BB   SO   ERA 
 1969  Covington        5   4  .556  12  12   0   0  0   56.0   51   50   41   52   71  6.59
 1970  Cocoa            4  11  .267  19  19   4   2  0  109.0   67   53   29   68  138  2.39
 1971  Oklahoma City   12   7  .632  24  24   8   3  0  173.0  116   55   47  105  202  2.45
       Houston          2   1  .667   4   4   1   0  0   21.0   17    8    1   16   29  3.43 
 1972  Oklahoma City   10   8  .556  19  19   6   2  0  128.0   94   57   43   79  169  3.02
       Houston          1   0  1000   4   1   0   0  0    6.0   10    9    0    8    8 13.50 
 1973  Denver           2   4  .333   8   8   1   0  0   52.0   54   39   33   26   66  5.71
       Houston          6   2  .750  16  10   2   1  0   72.0   54   32    2   38   75  4.00 
 1974  Columbus         5   8  .385  13  13   4   0  0   87.0  103   65   52   31   77  5.38
       Denver           4   0  1000   4   4   3   3  0   33.0   15    2    0   12   26  0.00
       Houston          2   3  .400  15   9   0   0  0   64.7   58   30    3   36   42  4.18 
 1975  Houston         12  10  .545  33  31   7   1  0  203.0  178   99    8  138  176  4.39  
 1976  Houston         20  15  .571  39  39  14   3  0  291.0  221   89   14  151  214  2.75  
 1977  Houston         18  12  .600  36  36  13   3  0  267.0  212   88   18  104  214  2.97 
 1978  Houston         18  11  .621  36  36  16   3  0  275.3  192   95   12  141  303  3.11 
 1979  Houston         18  13  .581  38  38  19   4  0  292.3  220   88   13   98  313  2.71 
 1980  Houston         10   4  .714  17  17   4   4  0  113.7   65   24    2   40  119  1.90  
 1982  Daytona Beach    3   1  .750   6   6   2   0  0   42.0   36   14   13   15   28  2.79
       Tucson           0   2  .000   6   6   0   0  0   24.1   35   45   37   27   13 13.68
 MINORS TOTALS         45  45  .500 111 111  28  10  0  704.1  571  350  295  415  790  3.77 
 MLB TOTALS           107  71  .601 238 221  76  19  0 1606.0 1227  625  562  770 1493  3.15  

For more complete stats on J.R. Richard, check his entry at Baseball-Reference.com.

Astros Media Guide entries

1971 Media Guide
1970 Record
                       G  GS  CG   IP     W-L     H   ER   SO   BB    ERA
Cocoa (Fla-St.)       19  19   4  109     4-11   67   29  138   68   2.39

#60 - Non-roster player this spring... giant youngster who has overpowering fast ball, but who obviously lacks control... was with Astros last spring for special work... had a no-hitter for Cocoa last season (vs. Daytona Beach)... has outstanding hit ratio for his first two years of pro ball.

1972 Media Guide
1971 Record
                       G  GS  CG   IP     W-L     H   ER   SO   BB    ERA
Oklahoma City (AA)    24  23   8  172.2  12-7   116   47  202  105   2.45
Houston                4   4   1   21     2-1    17    8   29   16   3.43

#50 - Tied Karl Spooner's major league record by striking out 15 San Francisco batters in first major league start... has overpowering fast ball...led American Association at Oklahoma City with 202 strikeouts... pitched no-hitter for Cocoa in 1970 (vs. Daytona Beach)... fanned 29 batters in 21 innings with Astros last season.

1973 Media Guide
1972 Record
                       G  GS  CG   IP    W-L     H   ER   SO   BB    ERA
Oklahoma City (AA)    19  19   6  128   10-8    94   43  169   79   3.02
Houston                4   1   0    6    1-0    10    9    8    8  13.50

#50 - Struck out 169 in 128 innings at Oklahoma City last season... Started one game for Houston and pitched in relief in four others in 1972... Registered win over Giants on Aug. 14 in relief... Led A.A. in strikeouts with 202 in 1971...Pitched no-hitter for Cocoa in 1970 against Daytona Beach... Has fanned 37 batters in 27 innings with Houston... Has 3-1 major league record.

1974 Media Guide
1973 Record
                       G  GS  CG   IP    W-L     H   ER   SO   BB    ERA
Denver (AA)            8   8   1   52    2-4    54   33   66   26   5.71
Houston               16  10   2   71.2  6.2    54   32   75   38   4.00

#50 - Was with Houston for the most part during the 1973 season and posted a 6-2 record and a 4.00 earned run average... At Denver last season had 66 strikeouts in 52 innings... Had outstanding games against Los Angeles on August 1 (nine innings, no runs, five hits, nine strikeouts) and Pittsburgh on August 20 (nine innings, two runs, two hits, nine strikeouts)... Suffered separation of right shoulder on Sept. 13 which shelved him for remainder of season... Tied Karl Spooner's Major League record by striking out 15 San Francisco batters in first ML start on Sept. 15, 1971 in the second game of a doubleheader... Pitched no-hitter for Cocoa, Fla. against Daytona Beach in 1970... Has 9-3 ML record... Given names - James Rodney (Don't call me Jim).

1975 Media Guide
1974 Record
                      W-L   ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Columbus (Southern)   5-8  5.38  13  13   4   87  103   65   52   61   77
Denver (A.A.)         4-0  0.00   4   4   3   33   15    2    0   12   26
Houston               2-3  4.15  15   9   0   65   58   31   30   36   42

#50 - Began season at Columbus (AA) then pitched at Denver (AAA) where he was brilliant with 4-0 record and no earned runs allowed in 33 innings... Was recalled to Houston on July 13 and remained with Astros balance of season... Recorded home wins vs. New York on August 20 and vs. San Diego on Sept. 6 last season. In win over San Diego pitched seven innings and allowed no runs and five hits... Tied Karl Spooner's Major League record by striking out 15 San Francisco batters in first ML start on Sept. 15, 1971 in second game of doubleheader... Pitched no-hitter for Cocoa, Fla. against Daytona Beach in 1970...Owns 11-6 ML record.

1976 Media Guide
1975 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Houston              12-10  4.39  33  31   7  203  178  107   99  138  176

#50 - Led Houston pitching staff in strikeouts with 176 which was also a single season personal high in 1975... Was second on staff in games started (31), wins (12), innings pitched (203) and complete games (7 - tied with Dave Roberts)... His 176 strikeouts ranked fifth in the league behind Tom Seaver (243), John Montefusco (215), Andy Messersmith (213) and Steve Carlton (192)... Posted 5-4 record at home and 7-6 mark on the road in 1975... Had nine strikeouts in five different games last season... Best outing of season was six-hit shutout of New York in 4-0 win in the Astrodome on Aug. 18 (three walks and nine strikeouts)... Won three of his last four games last season... Led NL in walks with 138 in 1975... Tied Karl Spooner's Major League record by striking out 15 San Francisco batters in first ML start on Sept. 15, 1971 in second game of doubleheader... Pitched no-hitter for Cocoa, Fla. against Daytona Beach in 1970... Owns 23-16 ML record... Has 330 career strikeouts in 367 career innings.. Led pitchers in hits (15), doubles (six) and RBIs (13)... Hit homer July 6 vs. Atlanta... Had two RBIs in four different games in 1975.

1977 Media Guide
1976 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Houston              20-15  2.75  39  39  14  291  221  105   89  151  214

#50 - Named as the Astros MVP for 1976 by Houston Chapter of the BBWAA... Became the Astros second 20 game winner and one of only five NL pitchers with that many wins in 1976... had three shutouts (N.Y. and L.A. twice) and started two others... won five games in a row during April and May... pitched a 10 inning, 1-0 shutout over the New York Mets on July 6... Had first two complete games of the season for the Houston staff... lost six games by one run... struck out nine batters in a game twice... struck out 10 batters twice and then in the final game of the season (his 20th win) he struck out 13 which also tied him for the league lead in strikeouts in a game... was 3-0 vs. Chicago and 3-1 vs. Montreal... average .74 strikeouts per inning pitched... allowed an average of only 6.8 hits per nine innings pitched... posted an ERA of 2.75, lowest of all Houston starters... averaged 7.46 innings per outing... had four consecutive complete games in July and August and had six in seven games (going eight innings in the only incomplete game of the stretch)... posted an ERA of 1.00 during an eight game stretch in July and August... posted a record of 11-6 after the All-Star game... was 7-3 in the final three months of the season (Aug., Sept., and Oct.)... faced the Cardinals and Mets twice each and completed all four games...had three complete games in four outings vs. Los Angeles (with an ERA of 0.61 in those games)... had an ERA of 1.08 in his 14 complete games... led the Houston staff in all pitching categories with the exception of games (39 to Ken Forsch's 52), ERA (2.75 to Forsch's 2.15), intentional walks, hit batsmen and saves... was second in the NL in strikeouts with 214 and was third among the NL 20 game winners in ERA... won his last three games in only nine days, the second of which was a three-hit, 1-0 win over Los Angeles... Tied Karl Spooner's Major League record by striking out 15 batters in first ML start on Sept. 15, 1971 (vs. San Francisco) second game of a doubleheader... Pitched no-hitter for Cocoa, Fla. against Daytona Beach in 1970... Owns a 43-31 ML record... Has 544 strikeouts in 658 innings pitched thus far in his career... Led pitchers in hits (14), home runs (2) and RBI's (9) in 1976... Enjoys fishing, hunting and the outdoors during the off season... Considers his no-hitter at Cocoa, his 15 strikeouts in his first ML game and his 20 victories to be his most outstanding achievements thus far.

1978 Media Guide
1977 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Houston              18-12  2.97  36  36  13  267  212   94   88  104  214

(c) Houston Astros
#50 - Was second to Atl's Phil Niekro (262) in strikeouts with 214, tying personal high set in 1976... His 2.97 ERA was seventh best in the National League... Struck out 14, 10/2 @ LA, tying him with Phil.'s Steve Carlton for 1977 one game high... Led Astros in wins, starts, complete games, innings pitched, walks and strikeouts... Won nine of last 12 decisions, including a pair of three-hitters; 8/27 vs. Mont. and 9/17 @ SD... Gave up an average of just seven hits per nine innings pitched... In his last five starts, he struck out 47 in 42 innings... Struck out 10 or more four times... Racked up 12 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over LA, 7/6... In 27.2 innings vs. Dodgers, he struck out 33... Finished fourth in NL in complete games (13)... After committing 10 errors in 1976, he handled 70 chances without an error in '77.

Personal/Misc: Underwent emergency appendectomy, 10/26/77, in a Houston Hospital... Spent part of winter in Houston, working out at the Dome and spending time at favorite hobby, fishing... Graduate of Lincoln High School, Ruston, La., where he compiled an 0.00 ERA in 1969. He also hit 4 consecutive home runs and drove in 10 runs in a single game in '69. The final score: Lincoln 48, Jonesboro Jackson 0... Attended Arizona State University. Needs one more round-tripper to become Houston's all-time home run leader as a pitcher. Currently has six lifetime home runs.

1979 Media Guide
1978 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Houston              18-11  3.11  36  36  16  275  192  104   95  141  303

(c) Houston Astros
#50 - Became tenth pitcher, third National Leaguer and first National League righthander in baseball history to strike out 300 or more batters in a single season... Surpassed Tom Seaver's total of 289, high single season strikeout total for a N.L. righthander, on 9/19 when he fanned the Braves' Bob Horner on a 1-2 pitch in the seventh inning... Got strikeout #300 when he fanned Atlanta's Rowland Office, 9/28 @ Atl... Three-year win total of 56 is the highest of any N.L. righthander during that period... Started season with Opening Day loss in Cinn. on 4/9, then halted Astros five-game losing start with a two-hit shutout over L.A., 1-0, on 4/11... Led staff in shutouts (3), complete games (16), starts (36), innings pitched (275.1), hits, runs, walks and strikeouts... Other two shutouts were a 5-0 two-hitter over Phila. on 5/15 and a four-hit, 13-0 whitewashing of Atlanta on 5/20... Won five straight decisions in six starts from 8/21 thru 9/15 and won nine straight home games from 7/9 thru 9/10... Opposing hitters batted .197 vs. J.R. overall; .156 at home... Was 12-5 at home... Was selected N.L. Pitcher of the Month for July when he was 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 56 innings... Was selected Player of the Week in the N.L. for the week ending 5/21. For the week, he was 2-0 (both complete game shutouts), allowing six hits and striking out 17 in 18 innings... Was Astros Champion of the Month for his Sept. efforts... Was two-time winner of Gillette Special Award, given in conjunction with "This Week in Baseball" television program... Won last six decisions and 12 of last 14... Homered vs. Atl. on 9/28 to become Astros leading pitcher in career home runs.

Personal/Misc: Graduate of Lincoln High School, Ruston, La., where he compiled a 0.00 ERA in 1969. He also hit four consecutive home runs and drove in 10 runs in a single game in 1969. The final score: Lincoln 48, Jonesboro Jackson 0... Is an avid fisherman. Appeared in ABC's "Superstars" competition earlier this year.

1980 Media Guide
1979 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Houston              18-13  2.71  38  38  19  292  220   98   88   98  313

(c) Houston Astros
#50 - Led major leagues in strikeouts (313) and National League in ERA (2.71)... Led Astros in ERA, complete games (19), innings pitched (292.1) and tied with Niekro for club lead in starts (38)... Was selected to AP and UPI post-season All-Star teams... Was NL Pitcher of the Month for September, when he was 4-1 with a 1.24 ERA... Six-hit the Braves, 2-1, on Opening Day and picked up wins over L.A., S.F. and Chi. in next four starts to get off to a 4-0 won-loss start... Lost next four decisions and seven of next nine to drop to 6-7 on 6/25... After three-hitting Padres, 3-0, at S.D. on 6/30, lost four straight again to plummet to 7-11 (on 7/20)... Ran off five straight wins from that point and was 9-1 from 7/25 thru 9/6. His only loss during that stretch was a four-hit, 1-0 loss to Phila. on 8/18... Recorded nine consecutive complete games from 7/26 thru 9/1 and worked 86 consecutive innings without being relieved from 7/29 thru 9/6; both club records... Set modern major league record with six wild pitches in one game, vs. L.A. on 4/10. He won game, 2-1... Was 4-0 vs. the Dodgers in 1979, giving him 11 straight wins vs. L.A. J.R.'s last loss to the Dodgers came on 6/23/76, when he tossed a two-hitter but lost, 1-0... Averaged 9.65 strikeouts and 3.02 walks per nine innings pitched for the year... Opposing batters hit .209 vs. J.R. in 1979... Struck out 10 or more batters in a game 14 times in '79, including his last four consecutive starts... Matched career high of 15 Ks in one game twice; on 8/3 vs. Atl. and 9/21 vs. Cin.

1981 Media Guide
1980 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP    H    R   ER   BB   SO
Houston              10-4   1.89  17  17   4  114   65   31   24   40  119

(c) Houston Astros
#50 - Opened season with 6.1 perfect innings and a two-hitter over eight to defeat the Dodgers, 3-2, on 4/10. Strains back running bases and leaves after eight... Worked five no decision innings before leaving with shoulder stiffness vs. Atl. on 4/14... Allowed only a Reggie Smith infield single in tossing a one-hitter @ L.A. on 4/19; victory was 13th straight winning decision vs. the Dodgers... Picks up 100th career win with 7-4 victory over the Mets on 4/25. Leaves with shoulder stiffness after 8.1 IP... Cracks home run to help guide Astros to 5-1 win @ Cin., becoming N.L.'s first 4-0 pitcher... Allows four runs in a third of an inning in the rain in Mtl. on 5/5. Lengthy rain delay chases him and drops record to 4-1... Went nine innings for a ND in Astros' 3-2 win in 11 @ Atl. on 5/10; bothered by back stiffness... Lost second and third straight decisions to Phil. on 5/16 and NY on 5/21... Defeated SD, 4-1, on 5/26 going 7 innings before experiencing back stiffness... Tossed three-hit shutout over SF, 5-0, on 5/31, shut out the Giants in next start, 2-0, on three hits on 6/6, and recorded third straight complete game shutout over Chi., 3-0, on 6/11, allowing six hits... Was 4-1 with a 0.22 ERA in five starts from 5/21 thru 6/11... Won fifth straight over Chi., 7-1, on 6/17, but left game after five innings with "dead arm"... Made first start in 11 days on 6/28 and lost to Cin., 8-5, going only 3.1 IP... Defeated Atl. in next start on 7/3, but went only 6.0 innnings before leaving with forearm stiffness... Selected to start 1980 All-Star game, worked 2 innings, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out three... Examined in L.A. by Dr. Frank Jobe on 7/11... Following meeting with Dr. Jobe, J.R. informed media he was to take 30 days off. Later retracted statement... Went 3.1 IP vs. Atl. on 7/14 before leaving with upset stomach... Threw for 22 minutes in bullpen on 7/16, experienced fatigue and was placed on 21-day disabled list... Admitted to Methodist Hospital on 7/23 for complete diagnostic study. An arteriogram revealed an occlusion or blockage of the distal subclavian and axillary arteries of the right arm. The neck arteries at that time, 7/25, were normal and no surgical intervention was necessary... Discharged and allowed to undergo supervised workouts on 7/26... Re-examined 7/29... Began workouts on 7/30 by jogging once around Astrodome playing field, followed by lob and half-speed pitching. After short rest period, went to outfield for long throwing and collapsed... Taken to Methodist Hospital where it was determined that he had suffered a stroke and had no pulse in the right carotid artery in his neck... Underwent emergency surgery to remove clot from the innominate, carotid and subclavian arteries in his neck, restoring circulation to ihs brain. Original occlusion in shoulder was not removed at that time... Stroke left his left side weakened... Condition responded to therapy and he was released form Methodist Hospital on 9/12... Took part in pre-game ceremonies in the Astrodome on Saturday, Sept. 27, prior to Astros-Reds game... Threw out first ball preceding Game #4 of the LCS vs. Phil. on 10/8... Admitted to University of California Medical Center and underwent surgery for removal of shoulder blockage on 10/14. Surgery performed by removing two 4" segments of the iliac arteries in groin, sewing them together and replacing 8" of damaged shoulder artery... Discharged from hospital 10/25... Immediately began rehabilitation program in anticipation of returning to baseball during spring training... Despite pitching only half the season, tied with Montreal's Steve Rogers for second place in shutouts.

1982 Media Guide
1981 Record  - did not play

(c) Houston Astros
#50 - Did not pitch during the 1981 campaign as he spent the season under a rehabilitation program to come back from the effects of a 1980 stroke... worked out both with the club and at Texas Southern University... took regular stints in pitching batting practice in the second half of the season... also pitched in a couple of "simulated" games using Astros extras... was placed on the active roster Sept. 1 when the roster was expanded to the 40-man limit following the end of the minor league year... did receive some consideration as a starter for a mid-season exhibition game against Texas just prior to the start of the second half, but was deemed to be not quite ready by manager Bill Virdon.

1983 Media Guide
1982 Record
                      W-L    ERA   G  GS  CG   IP     H    R   ER   BB   SO
Daytona Beach         3-1   2.79   6   6   2   42    36   14   13   15   28
Tucson                0-2  13.68   6   6   0   24.1  35   45   37   27   13

(c) Houston Astros
#50 - Spent the 1982 campaign on the comeback trail towards pitching in the major leagues once more... pitched in one spring training game and then took part in the extended spring training program in Sarasota for the first two months of the season... loop was an informal setup geared mainly for players coming off injuries or young prospects not slated to see regular actioin until the beginning of the short-season Class A leagues... had a mark of 3-2, 3.38 at Sarasota in seven games (all starts)... pitched 32 innings and allowed 15 runs (12 of them earned) on 27 hits with 21 walks and 28 strikeouts... took a few day soff when that program closed down and then joined the Astros Daytona Beach club in the Florida State League under the major league rehabilitation program... made seven appearances there (including one game which was rained out after two innings)... all appearances were starting roles with the first coming on June 28 vs. St. Petersburgh with a no decision in an 8-4 loss... notched wins on July 3 against Winter Haven (21-3), July 14 versus Ft. Lauderdale (6-2) and July 28 at St. Petersburg (6-0)... his lone setback came in his final outing versus Tampa on Aug. 2 (4-1)... the July 14 and Aug. 2 contests were both complete games for him... was promoted to Tucson in the Pacific Coast League and immediately jumped into the Toros starting rotation... was troubled by control problems at Tucson... posted a record of 0-2 with losses at Phoenix on Aug. 12 (21-8) and versus Salt Lake City on Aug. 27 (13-0)... longest outing at Tucson was 5.1 innings versus Phoenix on Sept. 1 in the season finale... top strikeout efforts were nine versus Tampa on Aug. 2 and eight versus Ft. Lauderdale on July 14 while four in the Sept. 1 final game against Phoenix was his best in PCL play... joined the major league club at the end of the minor league season, but did not see any action... while with the Astros, he pitched batting practice once and threw on the side the rest of the time.

J.R.'s movie not really J.R.'s movie
April 16, 2005
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Ben, please call my office. J.R. is ready for his fishing trip.

This is not a joke, although the above message does contain a kind of code. The fan who was kind enough to write and extend an invitation to James Rodney Richard may not want calls from a flood of strangers offering to join them on their sea adventure.

With one thing or another, I misplaced an e-mail and only recently rediscovered it. During the week of the All-Star Game in Houston, J.R. signed autographs for a couple of hours at the entrance to Minute Maid Park, staying longer than he needed, and explaining:

"Aw, the people were real nice to me and, you never know, if you hang around somebody might ask you to go fishing."

In his unending mission to reduce the problem of overpopulation in America's rivers, lakes and creeks, the almost-mythic former Astros righthander never misses a chance to bait a hook. He did it to the hitters for nearly a decade, so why should the fish get a break?

The final paragraph of the original e-mail said: "J.R. was my first sports hero. I was only eight years old when he had his stroke, and I cried for days after it happened. It (the fishing trip) is the least I can do for one of my favorite athletes of all time."

Richard takes issue

The Louisiana native, now 55, had that effect on people, which is why a company in Hollywood made a movie about him that will premiere in Houston next Friday at the AMC Meyer Park 16 theater on West Bellfort.

And if we have taken a small liberty with our fish story, J.R. believes the movie people have taken a few too many with his, and he is not a happy camper.

Most of the ink and airtime this week have gone to the documentary about Yao Ming, The Year of the Yao, and J.R.'s biopic Resurrection: The J.R. Richard Story somehow dropped below the radar.

We are not going to quibble with a movie we haven't yet seen, and it needs to be noted that J.R. hasn't, either. But I saw the drama unfold before it became a movie and can say with certainty that the real story is larger than life, just like the pitcher who enjoyed and endured every hour of it.

Arm for the ages

In his 10 big-league seasons, only six went from April to October, and yet the hitters talked about him like ancient minstrels praising their warrior kings. How good was he? How fast did he throw?

In the All-Star Game in his final half-season, he was clocked at 100 mph with a blood clot in his shoulder and no feeling in his arm.

He did everything a pitcher could dream about in a career: he won 20 games, twice struck out more than 300 batters in a season the only righthander in National League history to accomplish that and one year, 1980, had an earned run average of 1.90.

Richard says he saw some of the filming and heard enough to know there are gaping holes in the narrative, through which roll the trucks loaded with half-truths and invention.

He did fool around with drugs, but it was never his hobby, and most fans know he fell on hard times and was located by friends living briefly under an overpass.

"But there's a scene where a woman dies," he said, "and I'm supposed to all broken up about it, and that didn't happen.

"There was a game where I supposedly threw too close to a batter, or maybe I hit him, and a brawl broke out. That never happened. Not many batters stood in there close enough for me to hit them. It's not like it was in recent years, when guys have those thigh pads and elbow pads and the rest."

Greg Carter, a Houstonian who directed and produced the film for Nexus Entertainment, says he understands J.R.'s distress.

"We hoped he would be pleased with the movie," he said, "but he went through a lot of ups and downs and when people see that on the screen, it can be overwhelming.

"This is a small-budget picture. We made it for $250,000. We had to borrow baseball uniforms from high school players. So we tried to tell the story of a guy who was way up there and then had a fall and came back, rather than make it a true baseball movie. Everybody knows about J.R.'s baseball exploits."

If they completed a movie for a quarter million, you remove your hat and bow because most producers can't release a poster for what amounts to popcorn money. But Richard feels slighted, in terms of input and in how his world after baseball has been portrayed.

He works with kids at a baseball school called Sports Hall, and he spends a good amount of time tooling around town, teaching anyone who wants to learn. He has regained a strong religious footing, which the movie captures, but he sees himself as an example to others, but doesn't try to preach their ears off. He simply stresses the value of picking yourself up.

Carter says J.R. had a co-executive producer credit and worked directly with the writer of the script.

"Yeah, I talked to the writer," Richard said, "but most of that got changed. I don't know about how much license they take with movies. I just know I did some good things in my life and I wanted them in there.

"When I tried to point out an error in a baseball scene, the director said to me, 'Move, please, we're trying to get this shot.' That's when I walked away."

Viewers will have to decide for themselves. This exit does represent an improvement over the day he collapsed from a stroke while running in the outfield inside the Astrodome. He didn't walk away that day, and the greatness of J.R. Richard went from being a sure thing to our imaginations and became the property of people who make movies.