I’ll never forget this guy, indelible part of my childhood as a Dodger fan, this guy was a beast…RIP
James Rodney Richard, who died Thursday at 71, never pitched for the Dodgers. But he struck fear in the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere. Richard was one of the best pitchers in baseball with the Houston Astros in the latter half of the 1970s. He struck out more than 300 batters in a season twice and led the league in ERA (2.71) in 1979. But he was particularly dominant against the Dodgers, with fans pretty much expecting the Dodgers to lose any time they faced him.
In his career, he was 15-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 24 starts against L.A., pitching 14 complete games, five shutouts and striking out 218 in 208 innings. From 1977-80, he was 11-0 against the Dodgers, with a 1.54 ERA with 136 strikeouts in 117 innings. He was dominant. Steve Garvey hit .247 against him, Dusty Baker hit .157, Ron Cey hit .148, Bill Russell .183, Davey Lopes .159, Rick Monday.125, Steve Yeager .083, Reggie Smith .208. No Dodger could hit the guy.
In 10 seasons with the Astros, Richard was 107-71 with a 3.15 ERA and 1,493 strikeouts. He ranks tied for second in team history for career ERA, third in strikeouts -- behind only Nolan Ryan and Roy Oswalt — and fifth in wins and shutouts (19).
Baker, who now manages the Astros, told reporters Thursday that “We had a couple of catchers, one came with his arm in a sling and another came on crutches. There was something called J.R.-itis which was an incurable disease when you’re scared of J.R. Richard. It was like J.R. was only throwing from about 50 feet. With his reach and he was all legs, you didn’t have much time to make up your mind. ... You didn’t really feel comfortable at the plate. He was the toughest guy I ever faced.”
Richard suffered a stroke during the 1980 season and never pitched again.
While I realize this is a lot to write about a guy who never wore a Dodger uniform, if you were a Dodger fan during that time, you’ll never forget him, and his passing earned a note in this newsletter.