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.