August 26, 2003
J.R. Richard

Chron columnist Ken Hoffman provides a nice update on former Astro star J.R. Richard, who is now helping teach kids how to pitch at the Sports House athletic facility in southewest Houston.

Richard began coaching kids last year. He happened to drive by the Sports House and stopped in to talk over an idea with owner Ivan Shulman.

"He said he wanted to teach kids how to pitch," Shulman said. "This was J.R. Richard talking! Of course I knew who he was, and I knew his story. I jumped at the chance to get him here.

"You should hear him. He's pretty straight with them. He says, 'Look, your father is paying me to teach you how to pitch. Don't waste his money or my time.' The kids do listen to him, I'll say that."

The kids may not know that Richard struck out 15 Giants, including Willie Mays three times, in his big-league debut in 1971. They probably don't care that he struck out 300 batters in 1978 and 1979. Or that he put together the best winning streak in Astros history. He won 20 games in 1976 and 18 games each year 1977-79.

His students can plainly see that he's 6 feet 8 inches tall, wears a sleeveless T-shirt that shows off his muscles, has hands the size of skillets and, at age 53, can still throw a fastball 90 mph.

And he still has that glare. He was perhaps the most frightening pitcher ever. A batter would have been crazy to dig in against Richard. He once walked 10 batters in a game -- and still pitched a shutout.

His teammate, mind you, his teammate Bob Watson once said, "I've never taken batting practice against him, and I never will. I have a family to think of."

As you may know, Richard went through some tough times a few years ago, winding up homeless and living on the street. He's back on his feet now, and it's good to see. There's been a grassroots effort for some time to get the Astros to retire his uniform number 50, but they haven't done so. Richard was quoted by Chron columnist Mickey Herskowitz last year as saying he doesn't feel welcome by the Stros. That's a damn shame, and I can only hope they change their minds.

Here's an interview from 2001 with Richard, conducted by the same fan who's pushing for his number to be retired. Richard's career stats are here. It's pretty clear that had he gotten another five or six seasons like the ones he had between 1976 and 1980, he'd have been a Hall of Famer.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 26, 2003 to Baseball | TrackBack

J.R. Richard could dominate a game the way that Randy Johnson does now. Not only did he have incredible velocity on the ball (I'm convinced he pitched over 100 MPH during his career, even though his teammate, Nolan Ryan, was the only person to have been verified on the speed gun to have done so.), he was intimidating to the opposition just by his size. I wouldn't compare him to Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale for his mean streak, but he was a tough customer.

I also remember how hard he threw the ball to 1st base on ground balls. I almost felt sorry for the 1st baseman in situations like that.

It's good to see that he's doing well. If Ron Guidry's 49 can be retired by the Yankees, I think 50 should be retired by the Astros.

Posted by: William Hughes on August 26, 2003 8:29 AM

JR Richard vs. Guidry

Doesn't look like much of a contest to me.

The parallel I would draw is to Tony C. As I recall, Conigliaro was much more in the hearts of Sox fans than JR was in Houston (I may be wrong - I wasn't in Houston at the time), and isn't all that close to being honored.

Posted by: Danil on August 26, 2003 10:58 AM

It should be noted that the Yankees are very fond of retiring numbers. By my count, 15 uniform numbers are out of circulation in the Bronx:

1 - Billy Martin
3 - Babe Ruth
4 - Lou Gehrig
5 - Joe DiMaggio
7 - Mickey Mantle
8 - Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra
9 - Roger Maris (Graig Nettles wore this while a Yankee; the number was retired after Nettles finished playing)
10 - Phil Rizzuto
15 - Thurman Munson
16 - Whitey Ford
23 - Don Mattingly
32 - Elston Howard
37 - Casey Stengel
44 - Reggie Jackson
49 - Ron Guidry

They're gonna have to start handing out football numbers at this pace. I could have sworn 28 (Sparky Lyle), 29 (Catfish Hunter) and 34 (Dick Howser) were retired, but all of the Google searching I've done says otherwise; besides Karim Garcia is wearing #28. I'm pretty sure no one has worn #34 since Howser departed, but I can't swear to #29.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 26, 2003 12:27 PM


You have identified all of the Yankees retired numbers. I suspect that 2 and 51 will be up before too long as well.

Posted by: William Hughes on August 26, 2003 2:18 PM

I figure we can add #6 to that list as well, William, meaning that the lowest uniform number any Yankee will be able to wear some day will be 11. I find that to be vaguely strange.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 26, 2003 2:53 PM

Back to J.R. -

If you look at their careers, I think the comparison to Guidry is excellent. Without the stroke, Richard may have had at least the total numbers Louisiana Lightnin' had. Their average seasons are remarkably similar. And don't forget, Richard had a 1.90 ERA when he was felled by the stroke.

I don't think I've ever seen a more dominating pitcher than J.R. when he was on.

Posted by: Smirking Chupacabra on August 26, 2003 3:55 PM

I totally agree that the 50 needs to be retired. Don't know if anyone is wearing it but this was the Golden Age of Houston sports. Luv Ya Blue, with Big Earl and Bum's Rush were second fiddle to the Steelers, the Stros were up and coming and it was right before the big oil bust of the early 80's. JR Richard symbolized that and much more. If there are two things I remember from Houston in the early 80's aside from my mother getting laid off, it was Marvin Zindler and the Stros going toe to toe versus the Phillies and Joe Neikro's 2 hitter. JR is/was a part of that and deserves to have his #50 retired along with the Toy Cannon. Hell, the Stros have been around for nearly 50 years, we need to remember our past heroes. While we're at it, let's put Billy Hatcher's corked bat in the Stros HOF as well. I for one am looking forward to this season.

Posted by: Joe Fisher on January 31, 2004 10:49 PM

From my memories as a Ddoger fan growing up, J.R. was the last pitcher you'd want to see and that includes Nolan Ryan. This guy was such an intimidating force with his repertoire of pitches and his imposing height. I mean, this guy was flat out intimidating! Does his number deserve to be retired? As an outside observer looking in, I believe he should have his number retired. It's a real shame that politics are most likely preventing this from happening. The Stros should definitely step up to the plate, put aside their differences and do the right thing.

Posted by: Joel Ramirez on May 21, 2004 5:04 PM

J. Richard did more to build my confidence prior to my brain surgry than anyone. Prior to going into surgry, I remember thinking that if a man like him could get back to pitching after his stroke, I knew that I should be able to get through mine and at least function. I have since looked at him as the guy who helped me get through the ordeal.

Posted by: Mike Di Patri on August 30, 2004 11:15 AM

J. Richard did more to build my confidence prior to my brain surgry than anyone. Prior to going into surgry, I remember thinking that if a man like him could get back to pitching after his stroke, I knew that I should be able to get through mine and at least function. I have since looked at him as the guy who helped me get through the ordeal.

Posted by: Mike Di Patri on August 30, 2004 11:15 AM

when will j.r. richard be at another autograph show?

Posted by: randy on September 15, 2004 4:29 PM

I'm going to go meet with J.R. Richard tomorrow afternoon and ask him to sign a couple of cards for me and to talk a bit. He's making an appearance at Sports Collectible's of Houston in SW Houston (He does it about once a year or so).

Posted by: Randy K on October 16, 2005 12:11 AM

J.R. was at the Philly Sports Collector's Convention in Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania on saturday 12/3/05. I asked him to put his favorite Bible verse on the card he autographed for me. As some of you may know he is a Christian. He wrote down John 3:16, and he told me that if I ever see Tina turner I should tell her that "Love has everything to do with it." He is a very personable guy and very aware of the importance of having Jesus in ones life.

Posted by: John on December 4, 2005 6:14 PM

Yankees number 42 will be retired once Rivera retires. Not just because how dominate and great he is, but also because that is Jackie Robinson's number, which is League wide retired.

Posted by: Chris on February 2, 2006 9:27 PM