Houston Astros: At 70, legend J.R. Richard has a hard-earned peace

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1978: J.R. Richard #50 of the Houston Astros pitches against the New York Mets during an Major League Baseball game circa 1978 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. J.R. Richard played for Astros from 1971-80. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1978: J.R. Richard #50 of the Houston Astros pitches against the New York Mets during an Major League Baseball game circa 1978 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. J.R. Richard played for Astros from 1971-80. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Walking Away From the Game

Richard finally walked away from baseball in 1984. Unlike his television namesake, he wasn’t exactly made for the oil business: he lost $300,000 in an investment scam. His first divorce cost him another $669,000. A second marital failure and further business troubles wiped him out completely, costing him his home in due course and leaving him living under a Houston bridge.

Around 1994, two former Astros teammates (Jimmy Wynn, Bob Watson) reached out to the Baseball Assistance Team to help Richard start back onto his feet. His minister helped him stay there. And Richard helped himself at last, abandoning his former bull-headedness and letting God take his hand and then his spirit.

Long since then, Richard has been a minister at Mt. Pleasant Church. Among his activities have been helping the homeless help themselves, teaching baseball and other hard-earned life lessons to Houston-area children, and getting area donations to help establish youth baseball programs there.

“You see a man could eat a whole whale, but it takes one bite at a time. Or he can walk a mile, but it takes one step at a time,” Richard told Littlefield while promoting his memoir Still Throwing Heat. “So if you’re willing to take that step, [God] will make a way out of no way. See, God is the only one I know who can take a mess, go in a mess, clean up a mess and come back out and don’t be messy. Now you figure that out.”

Which is a remarkable insight from a man who once boasted that he was the only man alive could throw a baseball through a car wash without the ball getting wet.

Native to Louisiana, where he developed a lifelong passion for fishing, Richard hasn’t yet lost his laconic wit. Fans who meet him and remember how shocked they were over learning about the stroke that ended his career still get, invariably, the mischievous grin and sober reply, “I couldn’t believe it, either.”

Richard remarried for a third time in 2010. He met his wife, Lula, sharing a bus on a church trip, writing his telephone number down inside the cover of her Bible. After a steak dinner for their first date and what Richard himself called a two-year “courtship,” they married. “She helped with a lot of stability,” he said with husbandly pride, “in every way.”