Richard survived, but Matthews told the Times the stroke changed his friend.
"“After the stroke, he was never, ever the same again, from the laughter, from the mannerisms, you could tell. . .he was a totally different person after the stroke…"
Richard attempted a couple of comebacks but couldn’t command his pitches. He sold cars for a while, made some bad investments, and by 1995 was sleeping under an overpass in Houston.
Eventually, the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) stepped in helped him recover, get a job and find some peace.
Tyler Kepner ended his story for The Time with this.
"Johnny Bench, the Hall of Fame catcher, is famous for holding seven at a time. Richard held eight. It sounds impossible, but that is what Richard should represent: the ability to top whatever you can imagine. His career will always be unfinished. It will never be forgotten."
As I researched this post, I learned James Rodney “King” Richard was a pitching savant who was as intimidating as Gibson and Randy Johnson, threw harder than Nolan Ryan, and learned how to throw a slider from a book he found in a ditch when he was a sophomore in high school. I also learned that the Astros didn’t take the situation seriously. Several things slapped me in the face when I dug deeper into the story.
The press and his teammates questioned whether there was anything wrong with Richard. The pitcher who struck out 616 batters combined in 1978-1979 and was 100 strikeouts ahead of Steve Carlton when he had the stroke was faking his injury.
The Astros delayed Richard’s DL stint, and his medical evaluation missed a life-threatening problem. After the event, the team and the doctor said that Richard had a blocked artery to his arm adjacent to an artery leading to his brain and had a stroke, but they weren’t connected, and we didn’t bother to fix the blockage to his arm.
Richard was 6’-8, putting him in the population prone to vascular thoracic outlet syndrome. In 1980, that wasn’t something baseball fans heard about. Today, teams do know, but it still takes a while to diagnose… ask Phil Hughes.
Once Richard was no longer essential to the Astros, the club gradually forgot he existed; If not for BAT, he may have vanished into the homeless population and died on the street; that, my friends, is a disgrace. I’ll let you decide why it happened as it did.
That’s a wrap
Baseball endures because its history is woven into our history and passed on from parent to child. Fans who weren’t lucky enough to see pitchers like Paige, Gibson, Seaver, Ryan, and Richard, and everyday players like Banks, Musial, Mantle, and Mays, sometimes assume they wouldn’t be as great in today’s game because we don’t hear the stories often enough. It’s up to us to let them know that’s not right.
Tell your kids and any kids who’ll listen about watching Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Chipper, McGriff, and Avery. Tell them about watching Johnson throw a perfecto in Atlanta, Schilling’s bloody sock, Andruw climbing a wall, Ender decoying a runner, Blauser trying to call a time out then hitting a homer.
If we tell the stories, good and bad – big and small, players like Richard won’t fade into the ether. It’s our one true job as a fan, it keeps the game alive, and it’s something we can do eating popcorn in the living room.