The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

AUGUST  2004

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







The Other J.R. in Texas

by Jerry Keys

Like him or not, we all have to read the back page of Sports Illustrated.  It's a guessing game to think what Rick Reilly will throw at us.  It must have been eight or nine years ago when I saw a piece with an engravement at the top, "Richard, Hall of Fame, Class of 1995."

I thought to myself, who was Richard… James Rodney.  The name was familiar but very vague.  Wasn't he an all-star in 1984?  I checked…1983…no… 82… then I remembered.  J.R. Richard, the flame throwing righty that was hell-bent on becoming a killing machine for National

Jerry Keys

League hitters in the late 1970's.

After the 1979 season, Richard was entering the company of Ryan, (Steve) Carlton, (Tom) Seaver, and (Jim) Palmer, all at the ripe old age of 29.

Richard was drafted by the Houston Astros, second overall in the 1969 draft (behind top pick Jeff Burroughs) and was in the majors two years later.  Sporadic ailments and wildness limited him to just over 160 innings in his first

four years.  Astro brass knew he was special by his near nine-strikeout/nine inning ratio.

From 1975-77, Richard took the stage and began his ascent to the top, posting a 50-37 mark, averaging 250+ innings, posted back-to-back sub 3.00 ERA's in 76-77, and collecting an attractive number of strikeouts.  Walks and wild pitches were still his weak spots (think Koufax.).

Stardom arrived after compiling (in 1978-79) a 36-24 mark, 616 K's (led majors both years), and claiming the NL ERA title in '79 at 2.71. 

1980 was a new decade, with new milestones.  After Houston acquired Ryan via free agency, they were the consensus pick to win their first NL West pennant since its inception in 1962.  With Richard, Ryan, and 21-game winner Joe Niekro (from '79), the Astros were primed and ready.

Everything went as planned as Richard continued to baffle hitters with his 103 mph heater and 94 mph slider.  Richard made his first All-Star Game appearance in July, 1980.  Later that month it all came to an abrupt end.

During a throwing drill, Richard collapsed with a near fatal stroke.  Blood flow from the main arteries in the right side of his neck were cut off.  With no pulse in his right carotid artery, Richard underwent life saving emergency surgery.  Richard would never take the mound again.

The only consolation Richard could take from the heartbreaking end of his career was that his complaints of pain and arm soreness were true.  Houston brass ran numerous tests and found nothing.  Soon after, Richard was blasted by Astro brass, the fans, and the media as being an attention seeking bonus baby who couldn't control his alleged drug habit. 

Bad investments and alleged drug use cost Richard his savings, his home, and his family.  After an attempted comeback in '81, Richard disappeared from radar for more than a dozen years.  He turned up in the mid-1990's when he was found sleeping under a Houston Interstate bridge.  With help from old teammates like Bob Watson, Richard began to put his life back together.

Today Richard is a minister in his church and is very involved with inner city youth and the

homeless.  Richard also opened a baseball camp and travels the country as a motivational speaker.   

Richard's final stat line was 107-71, 1606 IP, 1493 K's, 3.15 ERA.  His career strikeouts/per nine innings is just under Roger Clemens current career total.  Nearly every pitcher who stays in the game long enough suffers setbacks.  Unlike those, Richard never got a chance at redemption.

It's nice to wonder how far he would have gone, maybe 200 wins, 225… maybe 3000 strikeouts… would the 1980 NLCS (Houston lost 3 games to 2 to Philadelphia) had different results had J.R. been on the hill for two of the five games?

We tend to enjoy the happy endings.  Cal Ripken's last game speech, Ryan's farewell salute to the fans in Arlington, or Clemens supposed final game last year in Florida where he received a standing O from the opposing fans.  Richard will never be a Hall of Famer and never got his farewell moment.  A goodwill gesture would be for Houston to retire his #50.