Halloween is right around the corner. So I thought it would be a good time to revisit the scariest moments in Astros history. This is the first in a series of posts in which I will reveal the scariest moments in chronological order as I recall them. J.R. Richard was a scary opponent for N.L. batters in the 1970’s. What happened to J.R. in 1980 was one of the scariest events in Houston baseball history.
July 30, 1980
J.R. Richard suffers career-ending stroke
J.R. Richard was one of the most imposing figures to ever stand on a pitcher’s mound. Standing 6′ 8″ and weighing over 220 pounds, Richard struck fear into the hearts of National League hitters. Richard burst onto the big league scene on September 5, 1971 and struck out 15 San Francisco Giants in his debut. Hall of famer Willie Mays fanned three times in Richard’s complete game victory.
Richard continued to pile up strikeouts and victories throughout the decade of the seventies. In 1976 Richard won 20 games and backed that up with 18 wins in each of the next three seasons. J.R. also became the first National League right-hander to record 300 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons, fanning 303 in 1978 and 313 in 1979.
In the 1980 season Richard began complaining of a tired arm. Team doctors were unable to find anything that could be causing the problem and some began calling Richard a complainer. With a 10-4 record J.R. was named the starting pitcher for the National League All-Star team. After the break Richard would continue to experience weakness in his pitching arm along with fatigue and shoulder pain. On July 30, 1980, during an on the field workout, J.R. Richard collapsed and lay motionless in the Astrodome outfield. He had suffered a stroke. Doctors determined that it was the third stroke that Richard had experienced. Richard’s pitching motion had caused an artery to become pinched between his collarbone and his top rib.
The Astros stuck with Richard but his comeback efforts would ultimately come up short. He would never pitch in the majors again. Houston released the big man in 1984. Some poor investments and a costly divorce would later take a toll on Richard financially. By the mid-nineties Richard was homeless and sleeping under a Beechnut Road bridge. Once his situation was made public, some of Richard’s baseball friends and his minister would lend a helping hand. Since then Richard has worked spreading the word of God and teaching kids how to play the game he loves.