The rainbow gut uniforms can be deceiving but what we have here is one of the most feared pitching tandems in MLB history. The 6’ 8”, 220 lb horse standing next to Nolan is J.R. Richard. He had a slider that clocked in the high nineties and on a good night a fast ball peaked in triple digits.
In 1971 Richard was a September call-up. He made his major league debut in the second game of a double header against the San Francisco Giants. He struck out 15, three of them coming from Willie Mays. The next few years he had trouble with control and found himself in and out of the minors but by 1978 it seemed like this were coming together. He finished the season with 18 wins and led the Astros in every pitching category or stat you can imagine.
The ‘79 season went a lot like the previous one and in 1980 Nolan Ryan came to Houston as free agent. Richards thrived behind the legend. He started the season with five straight wins and had three complete-game shutouts in a row. Read that last sentence again. Dominant. But by the All-Star break he was exhausted. Richard complained of dead-arm and vision problems. At one point he was removed from a game because he couldn’t make out the catcher’s signs. This was obviously more than just fatigue.
On July 30, during pre game warmups, Richards collapsed. Doctors confirmed that he had suffered a stroke. Further research proved that this wasn’t even the first stroke that Richard unknowingly endured. For the next three years Richard fought and rehabbed his way back into pitching shape. He toiled in the minors but his body just wouldn’t let him pitch. The risk of further complications were so great that he was forced to give up. J.R. Richard would never again pitch in the major leagues.
(Source: Sports Illustrated)