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The Cautionary Tale of J.R. Richard

One of the shows the MLB Network has in abundance is a series called “Prime 9”. It’s your garden variety “lists” show, only devoted to baseball-centric topics. One of them that I caught recently was on players who “coulda been great”. J.R. Richard was one of those featured, and his numbers warrant a mention.

Beginning in 1975 and running through 1980, Richard had a streak of throwing least 110 innings annually. During that time, Richard failed to post a FIP over 3.5, and actually had a few sub-2.5 seasons and one sub-2 season. Nolan Ryan signed with the Astros as a free agent for the 1980 season, giving the Astros a heck of a one-two punch, but Richard would miss half the season. Richard noted discomfort in his throwing arm and shoulder, yet was criticized as a whiner. In July, Richard would suffer a stroke and would later need to undergo surgery to unclog a blockage.

Richard would never pitch in a major league game again.

Often, fans and media members praise players for playing through pain and injury. Players who choose to sit out are labeled as fragile, soft, or simply as guys who don’t care about the game or winning. In reality, the “warriors” are actually hurting their team if they play with a performance-affecting injury, yet you would never know it by the praise thrown his way.

Obviously not all injuries are actually the signs of strokes or something worse, but the players know their bodies better than most. If such player says he can’t go today because of a sore wrist then it’s probably for the best if he doesn’t play that day. Some players in the past may have embellished injuries, but trying to judge motives is a slippery slope.

In the future, be careful of who you label as “guys with big hearts”, one might actually have one.