Astros pitching legend J.R. Richard dies at 71


J.R. Richard, a two-time National League strikeout champion with the Houston Astros whose career was cut short in 1980 by a stroke, died Thursday at the age of 71, the team announced.

In 10 seasons with the Astros, Richard was 107-71 with a 3.15 ERA and 1,493 strikeouts — including 313 in 1979, which stood as the team’s single-season record until Gerrit Cole surpassed it in 2019. He still ranks tied for second in team history for career ERA, third in strikeouts — behind only Nolan Ryan and Roy Oswalt — and fifth in wins and shutouts (19).

“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 said in a statement. “J.R. will forever be remembered as an intimidating figure on the mound and as one of the greatest pitchers in club history. He stood shoulder to shoulder with club icons Larry Dierker, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan, to form a few of the best rotations in club history.”

The 6-foot-8 Richard, who started the 1980 All-Star Game for the National League, was known for his 100 mph fastball as much as he was for his devastating breaking pitch. He won a career-high 20 games in 1976 — one of three seasons with 18 wins or more. He led the NL with a 2.71 ERA in 1979, when he went 18-13 and had a 3.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 292 1/3 innings over 38 starts.

“He had the greatest stuff I have ever seen,” Hall of Famer Joe Morgan once said, “and it still gives me goose bumps to think of what he might have become.”

Richard was playing catch during pregame drills inside the Astrodome when he suffered the stroke in July 1980.

The second overall pick of the 1969 MLB draft, Richard was inducted into the Astros’ inaugural Hall of Fame in 2020.

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