It has been over 30 years since James Rodney Richard last threw a pitch on a Major League Baseball mound, and 20 years since Richard was homeless, living under a highway overpass in Houston with cars, people, and life passing him by. That overpass was just miles away from the Houston Astrodome that Richard lit up many nights with his electrifying fastball.
An eventually career-ending, and life-altering stroke in July of 1980 changed Richard’s life both physically and mentally, something he still battles today.
“I never really got back to myself as far as me being me. I’m still having difficulties with some things,” Richard told The Inquisitr last week. “The left side of my body is still weak and sometimes depression sets back in and I have to deal with that.”
The depression stems from several different life experiences. Not only did the stroke cost Richard his career, but his marriage fell apart, bad business deals cost him a fortune, and a decade after his retirement, Richard lost his home. The Los Angeles Times examined Richard and his struggles with retirement in a 1987 article.
But he didn’t allow that time to put down, but rather use it as an educational experience.
“What I found out is that nobody gives a s**t about you, they just care what you do,” said Richard. “I think that life that I was living when I was homeless was more of a teaching as far as me learning of the how’s and how nots [of life].
Now, all of these years later, Richard has taken his plethora of experiences to print with the publishing of his new book, Still Throwing Heat: Strikeouts, the Streets, and a Second Chance. Thus far, Richard is pleased with the reception to the book, saying that everybody he’s spoken to is calling the book “inspirational.”
“It’s a book that transcends baseball, it’s a book about human life itself, some of things we go through and what we have to do to keep on going.”
The driving force behind Richard getting his life back together was accepting god into his life. Richard says that he recognized how certain people in life drifted away, simply because he was no longer in the limelight and enjoying the robust income of an elite baseball player. Facing an uncertain future, Richard couldn’t even see a future in which he could contribute to society again.
“That thought never really entered my mind, as far as me living to a certain day because I’m not in control,” said Richard. “So I give all my power to the lord, who is in control.”
As his life fell apart, Richard says that he could see that a change was needed. The key to it wasn’t to blame his circumstances, but rather fix himself, saying that, “I must change because nothing changes unless you change.”
In his prime, “J.R.” as he’s known to baseball fans, was one of the most intimidating hurlers of his time. Aside from his 100+ mph fastball and knee-buckling slider, Richard had a 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame behind all of those pitches. Despite battling control issues that saw him lead the NL in walks in 1975, 1976 and 1978, Richard’s stuff enabled him to enjoy a bevy of success in the Major Leagues.
Among his impressive accomplishments were winning 20 games in 1976, back-to-back 300+ strikeout seasons. in 1978 and 1979 and an NL All-Star selection in 1980.
However, Richard’s personal favorite moment was his Major League debut on Sept.5, 1971, against the San Francisco Giants. Not only did Richard strike out 15 hitters in his debut start (a 17-year-old record held by Karl Spooner at the time), he struck out future Hall of Famer, Willie Mays, three times in a 5-3 Astros victory.
Mays didn’t take too kindly to that.
“My Major League debut, Willie Mays was taunting me in the dugout saying, ‘Do you know who I am?’ In other words, you’re not supposed to strike me out three times.”
If he was able to make a player like Mays – considered by many one of the greatest players in history – look foolish in his debut, Richard has no doubt that his career would’ve been historically great.
“I think I would have rewritten the history books in baseball and definitely been in the Hall of Fame,” said Richard. “And been known as one of the best pitchers in baseball.”
A lot of time has passed, and Richard maintains to this day that he harbors no resentment or negative feeling toward anything or anybody. In recent years, he’s shown to be on good terms with the Astros. The team inducted him into their Walk of Fame in 2012, honoring him with a plaque. Also, he says that he’s able to still watch the game as a fan, but he isn’t a fan of how modern-day pitchers are coddled with innings limits.
“I think it hurts them because how can you arrive to your full potential if you’re being held back? I think the pitchers can be better than they are but how can they get better if they’re being restricted?”
But his main motivation is to spread the word of Jesus Christ, the one person he gives full credit to helping him get off to a fresh start.
“Jesus Christ motivates me to keep on going and keep on studying and reading,” said Richard. “It’s great to be alive and I think having forgiveness is happiness and forgiveness is freedom.”
[Featured Image by Rich Pilling / Getty Images]