James Rodney Richard (March 7, 1950 – August 4, 2021) was an American Major League Baseball starting pitcher who played for the Houston Astros from 1971 to 1980.
After graduating from high school, Richard was selected by the Astros as the second overall pick in the first round of the 1969 amateur draft. From the time he made his major league debut with the Astros in 1971 until 1975, Richard had a limited role as an Astros pitcher, throwing no more than 72 innings in a season. In 1975, Richard played his first full season in the majors as a starting pitcher.
From 1976 to 1980, he was one of the premier pitchers in the majors, leading the National League twice in strikeouts, once in earned run average, and three times in hits allowed per nine innings, winning at least 18 games a year between 1976 and 1979. On July 30, 1980, Richard suffered a stroke and collapsed while playing a game of catch before an Astros game, caused by a blood clot in his neck. His condition brought a sudden end to his major league career at the age of 30. His 313 strikeouts in 1979 remained an Astros franchise record until Gerrit Cole surpassed it on September 24, 2019, and he held the team's record for career strikeouts (1,493) until 1987. Two-time National League MVPs Johnny Bench and Dale Murphy both named Richard as the toughest pitcher they ever faced.
In 1981, Richard attempted a comeback with the Astros, however this failed because the stroke had slowed down his reaction time and weakened his depth perception. He spent the next few seasons in the minor leagues before being released by the Astros in 1984. After his professional baseball career ended, Richard became involved in unsuccessful business deals and went through two divorces, which led to him being homeless and destitute in 1994. Richard found solace in a local church and later became a Christian minister.
Ninety Feet from Fame: Close Calls with Baseball Immortality.
Why Michael Couldn't Hit: And Other Tales of the Neurology of Sports.
Klawans, Harold L.
Biographical Dictionary of American Sports. Boston: Greenwood Press.
Porter, David L
The History of the Houston Astros.
Goodman, Michael E.