Skip to main content
Original Issue

J.R. Richard, Houston Astros pitcher March 2, 1981

At spring training in 1981, some seven months after suffering a
nearly fatal stroke, All-Star pitcher J.R. Richard of the
Houston Astros tried to return to the major leagues. SI
celebrated his valiant comeback attempt in a cover story, but
instead of serving as a prologue to a triumphant reemergence,
the article turned out to be an epilogue to Richard's big league

Before his stroke the 6'8", 240-pound Richard was the most
fearsome flamethrower in baseball. A 100-mph fastball accounted
for most of his National League-leading 303 strikeouts in 1978,
and his 313 whiffs in '79 were the most by any righthander in
the league until the Philadelphia Phillies' Curt Schilling
fanned 319 last year. Through the first half of the '80 season,
Richard seemed a lock for the Cy Young Award. His 10-4 record
and 1.89 ERA earned him the nod as his league's starter in the
July 8 All-Star Game, in which he lived a dream by striking out
Reggie Jackson.

But three weeks later Richard collapsed during a workout at the
Astrodome. Despite showing flashes of his old form during spring
training in '81, he never returned to the majors.

Richard retired the following year and was soon broke. He lost
$300,000 on an oil deal that didn't work out. A divorce cost him
700 grand. By 1993 Richard, who earned as much as $850,000 a
year in baseball, was living under a bridge a few miles from the
Astrodome. A Houston Post reporter discovered him there, and the
ensuing publicity helped Richard land a series of part-time
jobs. In '95 his major league pension kicked in, and he now
lives alone in a Houston apartment. "You always think you'll
never see hard times, but you never know what the future holds,"
says Richard, 48. "That rainy day is coming, and it will wash
you away."

He often repeats such admonitions at the Now Testament Church in
South Houston, where he is a minister. He is helping to
establish the church's planned community for the homeless and
spends his Sundays as a counselor. Richard shows no mercy when
dispensing advice. "You can only help someone who wants to be
helped," he says. "They have to understand that nobody's going
to do it for them. They have to do it for themselves."

He's equally tough on today's major league arms. "Teams think
guys throwing 94 mph are really doing something, because that's
the best the big leagues have got," Richard says. "There just
aren't many real power pitchers anymore.

--Richard Deutsch

COLOR PHOTO: TONY TRIOLO "You never know what the future holds. That rainy day is coming, and it will wash you away." [Cover of March 2, 1981 Sports Illustrated magazine featuring J.R. Richard]

COLOR PHOTO: JANICE RUBIN [See caption above--J.R. Richard]