We love J.R. Richard - which is stated in our Twitter bio. He will be honored by the Astros tonight with a star on the Walk of Fame and will throw out the first pitch (which we expect to blow Jason Castro back to the bricks).
But he didn't stop there:
“When it happens, it happens, but I would like it to happen as soon as possible. And the reason why I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn is because when you look at the statistics, my number should have been the first one retired.”
Yeah, J.R. Richard's number should be retired. From 1975-1980, Richard was 96-65 with a 3.01 ERA/1.22 WHIP, with 73 complete games, 18 complete-game shutouts, and struck out 1339 batters in 1442.1IP. He led the league in strikeouts in 1978 and 1979 (616Ks, 567.2IP). He also led the league in walks three times, but whatever.
And the Astros have retired nine numbers (plus Jackie Robinson). Those players, in numerical order:
I can, of course, understand Bagwell, Biggio, Wynn, Cruz, and Ryan. I can get on board with Mike Scott and Larry Dierker. Still, nine retired numbers in 50 years is a stretch. That's a lot of numbers to retire, and hey:
9-5 record (8-3 with the Astros). 194IP, 3.06 ERA/1.17 WHIP. 6.2K/9. So how the heck did his number get retired? Well, he was 33 when he died, after a public battle with malignant melanoma. His ashes were spread through the Astrodome's construction site. The Colt .45s honored him by retiring his number, and wearing black wristbands for the entire 1964 season. His was the first number ever retired by the franchise. Hard to argue with that logic and reasoning.
Longer career, similar story. Wilson was 29 years old when he died, after playing for the Astros his entire career (nine seasons), going 104-92, with a 3.15 ERA/1.21 WHIP, and throwing two no-hitters. He led the league twice - once in 1969 with 16 wild pitches, and in 1971 with only 6.5 H/9 (and an All-Star appearance). While every death is tragic, Wilson's was especially so. He was found in the passenger seat of his car, inside the garage, with the engine running. As the garage was attached to the house, his son passed away and his wife and daughter were hospitalized in a coma. This was January 5, 1975, the Astros retired his number on April 13. Official cause of death says that Wilson's death was accidental.
Point being, with nine retired numbers (the Red Sox have only retired seven numbers), is there a point to not honoring Richard? At this point, why wouldn't you? Richard was a great pitcher whose career - though, thankfully, not his life - was cut short in its prime. Like Umbricht and Wilson.
And who wears 50 now? Bullpen catcher Craig Bjornson. Richard should have to buy the number from him (Three Red Bulls ought to do it). So it's not like anyone's actually using it. Still, Richard is flying dangerously close to the Blyleven Conundrum: Act like you want it, and it won't happen (or, it will happen, but it'll take a lot longer). Calling out the Astros probably isn't going to help anything, but I would imagine that a J.R. Richard pre-game ceremony to retire his number would foster some goodwill with the new Apparatus. And I bet they'll take the extra admission said ceremony would bring in.