The Vault

February 22, 2010

Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | March 2, 1981

The Long Road

Felled by a stroke, J.R. Richard tried to come back

On July 30, 1980, Astros All-Star pitcher J.R. Richard suffered a massive stroke. Seven months of intensive rehabilitation later the 6'8" righthander arrived at spring training in Cocoa, Fla., intent on returning to the major leagues. William Nack reported for SI.

When Richard arrived in Florida last week, there was little evidence that he had ever suffered a stroke. Not only had he regained feeling in his left side, but he also was speaking clearly and articulately and was moving about without so much as a limp. Only when he attempted to do exercises or movements on the mound—ones that especially required good reflexes and coordination—was there any clue that Richard wasn't entirely well.

The most troubling of Richard's problems has been his inability to make spatial perceptions. According to Dr. William Fields, his personal physician and the chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, the right side of Richard's brain, the side damaged by the stroke, governs his ability to perceive the location and speed of objects moving through space—including a baseball coming in his direction. Richard has had trouble picking up objects in the left half of his field of vision, the doctor says, and at times has had to catch a ball with both hands.

"If I pick up the ball right from the catcher's hand, I don't have any problems," Richard says. "But if I don't see it right away, it's hard to find. It's like trying to find a ghost."

Richard never fully recovered, nor did he make it back to the big leagues. Within a decade, a run of bad investments and two divorces had left him destitute. He turned to the church and is now a minister in Houston.

SI.COM | Breaking News | Real-time Scores | Analysis

NFL

College Basketball

NBA

NHL

Editor's Choice

MARKET WATCH

Ian Thomsen polls NBA execs about the future homes of the top free agents

League insiders believe that Dwyane Wade will stay in Miami, with one expert splitting his vote to give Chicago a 50% chance of luring Wade (3) back to his hometown and another predicting that he'll sign with New York. Though I've heard no groundswell forming around the possibility of a move to the Knicks, look at it this way: While LeBron James may have a hard time rationalizing a leap from a title contender in Cleveland to the bare roster of New York, Wade wouldn't be giving up as much by fleeing Miami.

Featured Stories

CRISS CROSS

By Chip Brown

Casey Puckett and Daron Rahlves lead Team USA in Olympic ski cross

SAVING GRACE

By Andy Staples

How Skip Holtz saved his first recruiting class at South Florida

BIG HURT RETIRES

By Tom Verducci

Frank Thomas leaves a legacy as the greatest White Sox player ever

PHOTOPhotograph by TONY TRIOLOBIG TALENT From 1976 to '80, the 6'8" Richard was one of baseball's most overpowering starters, winning 84 games while leading the NL twice in strikeouts and once in ERA. PHOTOMARK KAUFFMAN PHOTOTONY TRIOLO PHOTOJOHN IACONO PHOTOBILL FRAKES (WADE) PHOTORUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR (MCMURRAY) PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (KEARNEY) PHOTOGREG NELSON (JAMES) PHOTOKATSUMI KASAHARA/AP (PUCKETT AND RAHLVES) PHOTOEDMUND D. FOUNTAIN/ST. PETERSBURG TIMES/ZUMAPRESS.COM (HOLTZ) PHOTOV.J. LOVERO (THOMAS)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)