Former Astros Pitcher J.R. Richard Dies at Age 71

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 5, 2021

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1978:  J.R. Richard #50 of the Houston Astros pitches against the New York Mets during an Major League Baseball game circa 1978 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. J.R. Richard played for Astros from 1971-80. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Houston Astros announced former All-Star pitcher J.R. Richard, a member of the club's Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 71.

Houston Astros @astros

Astros Hall of Fame starting pitcher J.R. Richard, one of the greatest players to don an Astros uniform, has passed away. He was 71 years old. <a href="https://t.co/ylqq2nPQMi">pic.twitter.com/ylqq2nPQMi</a>

The Astros also released a statement Thursday:

"Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons, J.R. Richard. 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. Sadly, his playing career was cut short by health issues, but his 10 years in an Astros uniform stand out as a decade of excellence. We send our heartfelt condolences to J.R.'s wife, Lula, his family, friends and countless fans and admirers."

Houston selected Richard with the second overall pick in the 1969 MLB draft. He reached the major leagues in 1971 and became a full-time member of the team's starting rotation in 1975.

The Louisiana native developed into one of the league's best starters by the late 1970s. He finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 1978 and third in 1979, when he led the senior circuit with a 2.71 ERA.

Richard compiled a microscopic 1.90 ERA through his first 17 starts of the 1980 season and earned his first All-Star selection, but he suffered a stroke in July of that year.

He attempted to make a return following extensive rehabilitation, pitching for the Astros in spring training and in the club's minor league system over the next few years, but he required surgery on a calf injury in 1983 and was released in 1984.

Richard finished his MLB career with a 107-71 record, 3.15 ERA and 1,493 strikeouts in 1,606 innings across 238 appearances.

"I don't think I really reached my prime, when you start leveling off," the NL's two-time strikeout leader told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times in 2015. "If you look at my record, I never leveled off."

Richard was part of the Astros Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 2019.

The club said it'll honor him with a moment of silence before Thursday night's home game against the Minnesota Twins.