J.R. Richard Reaches Astros Walk of Fame Today

Bill McCurdy, John Storenski, & J.R. Richard, Josephine’s Ristorante, 2002.

No former Astros player is more deserving of the honor. When the name of J.R. Richard is plaqued into the new Astros Walk of Fame on the sidewalk around Minute Maid Park today, it will be a recognition of the man who is collectively over-due, most deserving, and still a tad shy of full payment on honors and acknowledgements due from the club he once elevated to new heights until the 1980 date he literally collapsed in the dirt of the Astrodome from at July 1980 stroke.

What was the big result for Houston baseball? Former Astros player and manager Art Howe called  it out in a Chronicle story on J.R. Richard just the other day. Howe expressed his very clear opinion that, had the the Astros not lost Richard in the summer of 1980 to a stroke, that the 1980 Astros of Manager Bill Virdon  would have taken the National League pennant and then  been favored to have won the World Series.

Didn’t happen. That’s not how life works.

The stroke ended Richard’s career, almost took his life, and also started J.R. on a downward spiral through his now infamous period as a homeless street person. It also started the legend of how J.R. Richard got there by genetic misfortune, a self-abusive life style, and the neglectful overworking misuse of his giant talent by the Houston Astros.

The stories and legal tension between the Astros and J.R. Richard over the question of stroke-causation opened up a giant hole in J.R. Richard’s life following the stroke. It was a human sinkhole that was big enough to swallow a man who stood 6’8″ and weighed well over 300 pounds.

Back in 2002, I nominated J.R. Richard for induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. It was around this time that he and I also met and got to be friends around our mutual interest in baseball. In 2002, he man was still struggling to right the shipwreck  of his personal life from 22 years earlier, but he does seem to have made some progress since that time through his 2010 marriage and his newly chosen profession or “calling” as a preacher.

Ten years ago, J.R. Richard was still a great big kid that just wanted to play – as long as he didn’t have to pay. That trait alone did not make him unusual in the sense that many former famous athletes get into – or even remained mired – in a condition we have now come to call and know as “entitlement.”

In 2002, nobody ever felt more entitled to a free ride than J.R. Richard. It wasn’t an intentionally malicious position he took either. It was just how he felt as one result of the stroke and what seemed to J.R., at least, like his abandonment by the Astros and baseball following his 1980 stroke.

I think entitlement was a concept that J.R. Richard had mixed up with love. (i.e., “If you love me, you will do for me. Feed me. Pick up the tab.”)

We never felt personally stung by any of J.R.’s entitlement hungers, but I do know that some others did. One time, J.R. learned that my wife Norma knew how to cook ox tail soup – and he just loved the taste of ox tails as one of his favorite soul food treats.

J.R. Richard, Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, 2002.

“Norma,” J.R. asked one day on a drop-in visit, “would you please cook me some ox tails some time soon? – And when I say ox tails – I don’t mean no short order plate. – I mean a whole great big old boiling pot-load stomach-filling several plate-loads of them?”

Sweet Norma smiled. And Sweet Norma did. And J.R. Richard came over and consumed everything that was in the pot before he almost passed out. He felt full. And he felt loved. Meanwhile, I passed on ox tails in favor of steak, but I felt loved too.

J.R. Richard was also still a pretty good basketball shot back in 2002. On another visit, we shot some horse on our driveway hoop until J.R. tired of all the easy shots and took the ball down the right side of the house to take a shot from about 50 feet away from the imaginary far right corner. It was a shot that had to partially disappear over an exterior house gable before again finding view in the driveway at the basket.

J.R. took the shot. It was nothing but net on the first and only try.

Game over.

Here’s hoping that the game is only warming up on the peaceful valley, gets-his-full-recognitiom side of recovery for J.R. Richard.

After this year, the Astros have only two more numbers of former players that also need to be retired and those are J.R. Richard’s # 50 and Joe Niekro’s # 36.

Let’s get ‘er done. Mr. Postolous. The sooner the better. These great franchise stars of the past are way over-due.

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5 Responses to “J.R. Richard Reaches Astros Walk of Fame Today”

  1. mike Says:

    Good column, BIll. Very enjoyable and human reading.

  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    It’s a nice gesture but many feel J.R. should have had his number retired like Scott, Ryan, Wilson and Dierker. Seems like Joe Niekro and J.R. Richard are getting second-tier status. You can have plenty of debates as to which (and you can add Roy Oswalt to the discussion) are the best pitchers in franchise history.

  3. Shirley Virdon Says:

    I believe my husband would agree with Art Howe’s assessment of how good J.R. was and what a loss he was to the club in 1980! Glad to know he is receiving belated honors!

  4. Darrell Pittman Says:

    IMHO, the Astros have way too many retired jerseys for a 51-year-old franchise. Jim Umbricht and Don Wilson were sentimental picks: while every death is tragic, just because they died while active players is not a reason to have their jersey hung from the rafters for all time. Mike Scott’s length of service was too short, and Nolan Ryan’s record in Houston was not all that great (plus Ryan chose to into the HoF as a Ranger), so I would not have retired their numbers. Cruz, Dierker, and Wynn were solid picks, as were, obviously, Bagwell and Biggio. J.R. Richard’s jersey, however, should have been retired long ago.

  5. Wayne Roberts Says:

    I agree with Darrell’s statement. I once checked on the number of retired jerseys and Houston has more than many long-time franchises. I forget the ranking but Houston is embarrassing since none of the numbers retired have gone into the HOF as Astros. They should all be “unretired” and only bona fide HOF players who go in with an Astro cap should be retired. Set up a “we love you” plaque somewhere prominent but retiring some of these guys, nope.

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