Former Astros All-Star pitcher J.R. Richard has died, the team announced on Thursday. He was 71.
"Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons," the Astros said in a statement. "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. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and fans."
Richard was one of the dominant pitchers of the late 1970s, overpowering hitters with an electric fastball and wipeout slider. In 1978, he led the majors with 303 strikeouts, becoming the first right-handed pitcher in MLB history to strike out 300 batters in a season. The next year, he struck out 313, an Astros single-season record until Gerrit Cole broke it 40 years later.
Although the 6'8" Richard debuted in 1971, he didn't complete his first full big-league season until 1975. His breakout year came the following season, when he went 20–15 with a 2.75 ERA and finished seventh for the NL Cy Young Award. It began one of the more impressive pitching stretches in MLB history. From 1976-80, Richard led all starters with a 2.79 ERA.
His career ended much too soon. In 1980, in the middle of his best season ever, Richard was working out at the Astrodome when he collapsed and suffered a stroke. He never pitched in the majors again.
Surgeons removed a life-threatening blood clot from the junction of two arteries in his neck, the same clot that doctors had told Richard that was not dangerous four days prior to his stroke.
Richard attempted to make a comeback but the stroke slowed down his reaction time and his depth perception. He spent a few seasons in the minor leagues before the Astros released him in 1984.
He finished his major league career with a 107–71 record, 1,493 strikeouts and a 3.15 ERA in 238 games. On the Astros all-time list, Richard ranks second in ERA, third in strikeouts, fourth in complete games (76) and fifth in wins (107) and shutouts (19).
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