Saturday, October 8, 2011
SIGnificant Cards - 2005 Topps Retired Signature Edition J.R. Richard
I used to get pumped up to get the exclusive cards produced only for the show and the great list of autograph guests, but many of the cards from the National are not even recognized by the trading card bible and are not known beyond the circle of people that attend the National. This year, I was more excited about the TNA Wrestling package than almost any of the athletes that have been staples at the show for many years. Not only was it more affordable, but the package offered more bang for the buck than any previous one at the NSCC, but alas that is another story.
When I do go to the National, I always look for certain things. One is a Kurt Warner autographed card from a leading manufacturer. To date in all my years, I have only found one and it wasn't from a dealer on the floor. He wanted way too much, so I passed. I did find one of the cool cards that Kurt sells on his website and picked one of those up. Again, another story.
One of the other players I collect is former Houston Astros fire-baller J.R. Richard. Richard was a true phenom. First of all he threw nearly 100 mph and in his first game he struck out 15. That was just the beginning of a stellar, though short career. In 1976, he won 20 games (1/4 of the Astros 80 from that season) and his salary was only $40,000! Today, he'd be making $15M. Richard won 18 games in three consecutive years from 1977-79. He led the NL in strikeouts twice and what was even more impressive was that in the 79 season where he won 18 games, he has 19 complete games! Does anyone do that anymore?
Clearly, he was overworked and in 1980 his body told him so when he suffered a stroke while on the mound. Here's a great article from the Sports Illustrated Vault about the tragedy.
He tried many attempts at a comeback, even getting released by the Astros to have a surgery. They re-signed him, only to cut him again. It was a horror story for the pitcher. He was complaining about arm issues and pain and it turned out to be a blod clot. It went undetected and it cost him his career.
With baseball out of the picture he made some poor investments and went through an expensive divorce. When it was all said and done, he was broke and found living under a highway bridge. Here's a great piece from ESPN about J.R that can let you inside his story from his perspective.
Richard's plight eventually garnered some mainstream attention and with the help of friends and his church, was able to get his life back on track. It is to date one of the most heartbreaking MLB stories.
I have all of J.R.'s basic Topps cards. I was ecstatic to pull this uncirculated autographed card of the Astros' legend. It comes from the 2005 Topps Retired Stars Signature Series and is card #TA-JR. There are so many what if's with J.R. it isn't funny. Would he have won 300, would he be the all-time strikeouts leader, would he have been better than Nolan Ryan, we will never truly know, but we can celebrate what he did accomplish and his true comeback, the one called life.