HOUSTON, TX - Astros Hall of Fame starting pitcher J.R. Richard, one of the greatest players to don an Astros uniform, has passed away. He was 71 years old.
The Houston Astros released the following statement:
“Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons, J.R. Richard. 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.”
In his heyday, J.R. Richard was one of the most feared pitchers of his era. The imposing Richard, who stood 6-feet, 8-inches tall, featured a 100 mph fastball and a wicked breaking pitch that resulted in record-setting strikeout numbers. After being selected by the Astros with the second overall pick in the 1969 Draft, Richard would make his Major League debut just two years later and it was a memorable one. In his first Major League start on September 5, 1971, Richard struck out a record 15 batters en route to a complete-game win over the Giants.
In his 10 seasons overall in an Astros uniform (1971-80), Richard had a 107-71 record with a 3.15 ERA and 76 complete games. He was a 20-game winner in 1976 and won 18 or more games in four straight seasons (1976-79). In 1978, Richard became the first Astros pitcher to reach 300 strikeouts in a season with 303, which led the Majors. In 1979, Richard led the National League in ERA (2.71) while breaking his own club record with an MLB-best 313 strikeouts.
In 1980, Richard was on pace to have his best Major League season, being named the National League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game after posting a 10-4 record in the first half with a 1.96 ERA. However, his season and his career was cut short that season after suffering a stroke on July 30, 1980.
On the Astros all-time lists, Richard ranks tied for second in career ERA (3.15), third in strikeouts (1,493), fourth in complete games (76) and fifth in wins (107) and shutouts (19). In 2019, he was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Astros Hall of Fame.
“I’ve known J.R. for a long time,” said Enos Cabell, who was an Astros teammate for several seasons. “In the minor leagues, I played against him and then we were teammates with the Astros for many years. He was one of the greatest pitchers we ever had and probably would have been in the Hall of Fame if his career was not cut short. On the mound, he was devastating and intimidating. Nobody wanted to face him. Guys on the other team would say that they were sick to avoid facing him. This is very sad news. He will be missed.”
“J.R. was one of my good friends,” said Jose Cruz, another long-time teammate with the Astros. “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”.
In remembrance of J.R. Richard, the Astros will hold a moment of silence prior to tonight’s 7:10 p.m. game and will recognize Richard’s career as part of the club’s Astros Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday prior to the 6:10 p.m. game. Richard is the fourth member of the Astros Hall of Fame that has passed away over the past two seasons, as the others were Joe Morgan, Bob Watson and Jimmy Wynn.