The Astros did not provide further details.
In 10 seasons with the Astros, Richard was 107-71 with a 3.15 ERA and 1,493 strikeouts – including 313 in 1979, which was the team’s single-season record until what Gerrit Cole surpasses him in 2019. He still ranks tied for second in team history for ERA career, third in strikeouts – behind only Nolan Ryan and Roy Oswalt – and fifth in wins and shutouts (19).
“Today is a sad day for the Houston Astros as we mourn the loss of one of our franchise icons, JR Richard,” the team said in a statement. “JR will be forever remembered as an intimidating figure on the mound and as one of the greatest pitchers in club history. He’s stood side-by-side with club icons Larry Dierker, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan, to form some of the best rotations in club history. “
Astros Hall of Fame starting pitcher JR Richard, one of the greatest players to wear the Astros uniform, has passed away. He was 71 years old. pic.twitter.com/ylqq2nPQMi
– Houston Astros (@astros) August 5, 2021
The 6-foot-8 Richard intimidated hitters with an effectively wild delivery, a fastball that often hit 100 mph, and a nearly untouchable breaking ball. He was selected by the Astros with the second overall pick in the 1969 draft and struck out 15 batters in a all-round win over the Giants in his major league debut on September 5, 1971.
He pitched for Houston from 1971 to 1980, pitching 76 full games. Richard won his career best 20 games in 1976, the first of four consecutive seasons with at least 18 wins.
In 1978, he became the first Astros pitcher to strike out 300 batters in one season as he led the majors with 303. The following year, he led the National League with a 2.71 ERA and was stale 313 to lead the majors again as he passed 18-13 and had a strikeout ratio of 3.2 strides in 292 ⅓ innings out of 38 starts.
“He was one of the greatest Astros of all time,” said former teammate Jose Cruz. “When he was throwing, we knew we were going to get a ‘W’. I didn’t get too many balls in the outfield when he pitched because he was so dominant. “
Richard had a strong season in 1980, posting a 10-4 record with a 1.96 ERA in the first half of the season and starting for the NL in the All-Star Game.
“He had the best things I’ve ever seen,” Hall of Fame member Joe Morgan once said, “and it always gives me goosebumps to think about what he could have become. “
Less than a month after the start of the All-Star Game, Richard was playing wrestling during pre-game drills at the Astrodome when he suffered the stroke that ended his career at the age 30.
Richard attempted a comeback, but was never able to return to the majors and was released by the Astros in 1984.
“He was one of the greatest pitchers we’ve ever had and probably would have been in the Hall of Fame if his career hadn’t been cut short,” said former teammate Enos Cabell, who played six seasons with Richard. “On the mound he was devastating and intimidating. No one wanted to face him. The guys on the other team said they were sick to avoid facing him. This is very sad news. We will miss him. “
Richard had a hard time following the end of his career. A series of bad investments, failed businesses, and a divorce left him penniless, and he was briefly homeless in the mid-1990s.
He eventually took control of his life and worked as a minister in his later years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.