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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.
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BIG 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.
BILL FRAKES (WADE)
RUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR (MCMURRAY)
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GREG NELSON (JAMES)
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