In saddening news, the Astros announced this afternoon that former major league pitcher J.R. Richard passed away at the age of 71. The team will hold a moment of silence in his honor before this evening’s game against the Twins.
“Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons, J.R. Richard,” the team wrote in a statement. “J.R. will forever be remembered as an intimidating figure on the mound and as one of the greatest players in club history. … We send our heartfelt condolences to J.R.’s wife, Lula, his family, friends and countless fans and admirers.”
Richard appeared in the majors from 1971-80, spending his entire career with the Astros. Regarded as one of the most electric pitchers of his era, Richard twice led MLB in strikeouts (1978-79), exceeding 300 punch outs in both seasons. The right-hander led the National League in K/9 and FIP both years, and his 2.71 ERA over 292 1/3 innings in 1979 was the league’s best. He appeared among the top ten in NL Cy Young Award balloting in each of 1976, 1978 and 1979 and picked up some down-ballot MVP support in 1976 and 1979.
1980 was shaping up to be perhaps Richard’s best season ever. He tossed 113 2/3 frames with career-low marks in ERA (1.90) and FIP (1.94), earning his first All-Star nod in the process. Tragically, he suffered a stroke that July that prevented him from ever again appearing in the major leagues.
While Richard’s playing career was cut short, his peak was among the better ones in major league history. He’ll be remembered for his on-field accomplishments as one of the greatest pitchers in Astros’ history, as well as his community work in the Houston area later in life. We at MLBTR send our condolences to Richard’s family, friends and loved ones.