In the 1969 Amateur Draft the second pick was a pitcher that turned into a superstar. He debuted at age 21, was good enough to garner Cy Young votes in his second full season in the rotation and won 74 games in the next five years.
He was done within another two seasons.
Of course we are talking about J.R. Richard, who is the second inductee in the Alternate Universe Baseball Hall of Fame.
At his peak, Richard may have been as difficult to hit as any pitcher that ever lived. Over his five peak seasons he let up fewer than seven hits per nine, led the league in strikeouts twice with both seasons over 300. His ERA+ over his last five seasons: 116, 120, 106, 130, 174. He was more than halfway to a Hall of Fame career in Gray Ink, Black Ink, the Hall of Fame Monitor and the Hall of Fame Standards tests developed by Bill James and referenced at BaseballReference.com.
Who was the most similar pitcher to him at ages 29 and 30? None other than Bob Gibson.
He was clearly a Hall of Fame caliber talent. Until he had a stroke.
While playing a game of catch on July 30, 1980 he suffered a stroke because of a blood clot in his neck and underwent emergency surgery. He was finished, and 1980 might have been his best season.
In 1980 he was letting up a mere 5.1 hits per nine in his 113 innings. That is no typo. His WHIP was 0.92 his 2.98 ERA was good for a 174 ERA+. All career bests at age 30.
He tried to make a comeback in 1981 but was not nearly good enough anymore. He then gained some fame a few years later for being homeless.
It didn’t have to be this way.
According to Harold Klawns, in his book on the neurology of athletes, nine days before his stroke he had an angiogram that showed a complete artery blockage. They decided surgery was not needed. Instead they sent him to a chiropractor, and on July 30 he had a neck rotation to fix the blood flow to his upper torso. And a few hours later he had a stroke.
The great J.R. Richard, maybe the Astros best pitcher ever, was felled by medical malpractice, and a Hall of Fame career was at an end.
By the Alternate Universe Baseball Hall of Fame Standards, Richard is a worthy inductee and we welcome him to the Hall.
If you would like to contribute by nominating a player or by writing up an inductee, please tweet me @pdicaprioFP911 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions are welcome.