"I saw him try to spit," Howard says. "He tried to spit but it wasn't going anywhere. He was drooling. His eyes were red. It was like he had got stuck in both eyes by a stick."
Shortly afterward the ambulance came into the Dome and onto the field. Moments later attendants strapped Richard on a stretcher and he was on his way to Methodist Hospital.
It is sad irony that J.R. Richard, 30, should have suffered the stroke on the very field where he had made his name as the most feared pitcher in baseball—a 6'8" righthander with a smoking fastball and a devastating slider. Two years ago his 303 strikeouts made him the first National League righthander to strike out 300 batters in a season. Last season he struck out 313 more. This year he was enjoying his best season ever. When the stroke occurred, ending his season and perhaps his career, he had a 10-4 record, a 1.89 ERA and 119 strikeouts. He was a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award.
So it all came undone—gradually at first, like the unraveling of a hideless baseball—where it all began, in the Dome. The last six weeks of his 1980 season, from the day he first felt the symptoms of the clotting to the day he fell on the field, constitute one of the strangest, saddest and most controversial chapters in baseball history.
On June 17, in a game in Wrigley Field, Richard began to experience an inexplicable tiredness, a deadness, in his throwing arm. From that single baffling symptom, all the consequent troubles stemmed.
Richard had never had a problem with his arm, and thus had never endured the pressures of handling one. Eventually, he grew defensive. Now everybody wanted to know what was wrong with his arm, but he could not explain. He made apparently conflicting statements about his condition. And the Houston media went after him because of the inconsistencies. The media, the fans, even teammates accused him variously of loafing, gutlessness or being jealous of teammate Nolan Ryan's more lucrative contract. There were intimations that he was into drugs. With their pennant chances in jeopardy, some of his teammates sniped at him in print—often anonymously. It was complex and confusing, and ultimately tragic. Reich believes that the attacks on Richard were probably exacerbated by the coincidental fact that his initials, J.R., happen to be those of J.R. Ewing of the television series Dallas.
So the headlines read: WHO SHOT J.R.'S ARM?
"They couldn't resist," Reich says. On June 28, in his first start since he had left the Chicago game with a "dead" arm, he came out of a game against Cincinnati after giving up five runs in 3? innings. He said that his arm was "tired."
" James Rodney Richard's right arm got better Saturday night," Ed Fowler of the
wrote. "It improved from 'dead' to 'tired.' If his convalescence continues at the current pace, his arm may be 'puny' by the next time he pitches."
Just before the Cincinnati game Richard came close to the truth in a remarkable self-diagnosis. "I think it's been a nerve problem and maybe not enough blood was being pumped to my arm," he said. "It's sort of like an engine not getting enough gasoline. When that happens, the engine won't run."