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J.R. Richard to be honored by the Astros tonight — but how about retiring his number too?

Jun 1, 2012, 11:03 AM EDT

J.R. Richard

When I was seven years-old, I was of the opinion that J.R. Richard was the greatest pitcher in baseball. This was based less on watching him — I might have seen him pitch once on a Game of the Week or something and knew nothing about pitching then — as it was on what older people said and gaudy numbers on the back of baseball cards.

But, as you probably know, Richard’s career was cut short — and his life derailed — by a stroke he suffered while warming up in the Astrodome on July 30, 1980.  He would never pitch again. He would fall into drug abuse and homelessness.  Only in the past several years has he gotten back on his feet, and is now a preacher and community worker.

He’s being honored by the Astros today, when he will be inducted into their “Walk of Fame” outside of Minute Maid Park. Tonight he will throw out the first pitch prior to the game.

But Richard wants more. He wants his number retired:

The Astros have been more liberal than most teams in retiring numbers, and the list of pitchers so honored includes Larry Dierker, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and a pair who died prematurely in Don Wilson and Jim Umbricht.

Richard hopes his No. 50, which has been given to nine players and now bullpen coach Craig Bjornson since Richard retired, will be next.

“When it happens, it happens, but I would like it to happen as soon as possible,” Richard said. “And the reason why I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn is because when you look at the statistics, my number should have been the first one retired.”

Hard to blame him. After all he gave to the Astros, one would hope that they could quit giving out number 50 to others.

  1. dpeter11 - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Boy what was up with the old Astro unis having the number on the pants?

    • jwbiii - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      I’d like to think it was the result of a laundry accident which resulted in Cliff Johnson and Tommy Helms having their pants switched.

    • pmcenroe - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:37 AM

      perhaps it was for the ladies… so glad we’ve moved on to pink hats and “baseball boyfriends”

  2. nolanwiffle - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:37 AM

    Retire it tonight! What a shame we never really got to see Richard and Ryan in the same rotation. That would have been something.

  3. mybrunoblog - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:37 AM

    The JR Richardson story is an interesting one. That said retiring his number seems a bit much.
    Even if the Astros have been liberal or jumped the gun previously retiring some numbers, don’t compound the issue by retiring another number that is probably unworthy of the honor.

    • nolanwiffle - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:48 AM

      Who the hell is JR Richardson? You’re out of your element, Donny.

  4. nightrain42 - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    He deserves his number retired. But don’t ask for it.

  5. asheetmadrawers500 - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    The Astros should consider honoring their all time winningest pitcher, Joe Niekro #36. He is the ONLY
    Back to back 20 game winning pitcher in Astros history.
    Joe died of a brain anyurism in his early 60’s. This would mean a great deal to his children. His son Lance was recently named Head Baseball coach at Florida Southern,
    His daughter Natalie, runs his foundation. #36 should be retired…..next in line…yes before J.R.

  6. makeham98 - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    Remembering how ugly things were between JR and the team immediately before he dropped (literally) they should have honored him a long time ago. I don’t agree with retiring his number, people’s careers are cut short every year. Life isn’t fair. Too many retired numers in sports; the ring of honor approach is plenty of recognition.

  7. gwhempel - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    I’m not an Astros fan, and I never saw him pitch, so I don’t really have a horse in this race. But looking over his B-Ref page, I’m surprised there’s much of a push to get his number retired. The guy had 4 1/2 good seasons, but it wasn’t like he was putting up Koufaxian numbers in that span. It’s very unfortunate what happened to him, but retiring his number seems like a stretch.

    I’m a Brewers fan, and to me this seems like if Milwaukee would retire Ben Sheets number. He had several good seasons, and was a fan favorite, but putting him in the same breath as Yount, Molitor, and Aaron would be ridiculous.

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 1, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      Yes, but it’s with the Astros. It’s not like he was on the Yankees and asking for his number to be retired. Name me the 10 best Astros pre 1990s. Off the top of my head you have Wynn, Cruz, Cedano, Watson…pre-big red Machine Joe Morgan. They aren’t a team with a long history of great players (they only became a team in 1962).

      Richard had transformed into one of the best pitchers in the game by 1976 and his career was cut short by a stroke. I would be fine with his number being retired.

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 1, 2012 at 1:04 PM

      Also, throwing Aaron’s name into isn’t very fair, as he posted a .686 OPS in 222 games in his Brewers career. His number is retired because of his contributions to a different franchise that happened to be in Milwaukee during his best years.

  8. reds37win - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    Personally, I don’t think any number should be retired, unless baseball believes it is going away in the next century. Seems a bit shortsighted to me.

    Instead, why not have plaque or some display with the pitcher’s name and the number he wore? The name is who we should be honoring and remembering, not the number. How many kids today look at the numbers retired at some ballparks and have no idea who it represents?

    JR was an awesome pitcher, to be sure.

  9. dodger88 - Jun 1, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Agreed, they should retuire the number. I have no problem with teams who do so strictly based on haal of fame induction; that’s their prerogative but short of establishing that kind of standard as is clearly the case with the Astros, Richard should be honoured for what he meant to the franchise in the years leading up to them becoming a highly competitive club.

  10. hushbrother - Jun 1, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    I also ever saw him pitch, but I too was wowed by the stats on the back of his 1979-1980 Topps cards. It’s a real shame his brilliant career was cut short in such a way.

    By the way, how many “Black Aces” (black pitchers who won 20 games in a season) are there now? A few years ago it was 12, but Sabathia has since joined the ranks. Any others?

    • jwbiii - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:29 PM

      Dontrelle Willis

  11. beefalo23 - Jun 1, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Amazing. This guy was the biggest, baddest pitcher in the Bigs before his stroke. I saw him pitch a 2 hit shutout against the Dodgers way back & I think he struck out 15 or so that night. On the mound, he was a righthanded version of Randy Johnson, with just enough wildness to put the fear of God into a hitter. I bet if you took a poll of the NL hitters back then, JR would be the most feared pitcher of his time. Just the nastiest slider I have ever seen; better than Carlton’s.

  12. munsonmanor - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    What’s missing in the article is WHY he had a stroke. J R had been taken out in the middle of a few starts because he was having pain in his shoulder. Through normal procedures, the Astro’s didn’t find anything, so they kept throwing him out there. He had an aneurysm in his shoulder and that’s why he had the stroke. Had the Astro’s caught this, there is a chance that the stroke wouldn’t have happened and if treated, he may have had a great career afterwards. We’ll never know. I’ve seen interviews with J R and I believe he has some hard feelings from the organization. There were discussions of possible racism in the teams evaluation of him saying that the team thought he was just lazy and there was nothing wrong with him before the stroke. Don’t know if it’s true or not. J R is one of those players that we can only dream of what kind of career he would’ve had. I think Randy Johnson type of stats are very comparable. His walk and hit rates were declining each year and his strikeouts per 9 were between 9.4 – 9.9 his last 3 years.

  13. jjpileggi - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    There is nothing sadder than the phrase “what might have been” and yet that is the first thought I have when I hear the name “JR Richard”.

    John Pileggi

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