15,000 days since J.R. Richard’s fantastic debut

It was 15,000 days ago that a pitcher made one of the greatest debuts in baseball history. And as it happened, the pitcher went on to be a bit more than a one-game wonder, too.

It was a young hurler for the Houston Astros named J.R. Richard.

15,000 days ago was Sept. 5, 1971, and the giant 6-foot8 fastball-throwing Richard took the hill to start against the Giants in San Francisco.

The first inning was a bit rocky for Richard. Leading off, Ken Henderson singled sparking a rally that scored two runs. Even in this inning, Richard showed a flash of what he was capable as he struck out the legendary Willie Mays.

In the second inning, Richard shut the Giants down while striking out his second batter, but he really found his stride in the third. First up, Tito Fuentes. Strikeout. Then the great Mays. Richard struck him out again. Then came Bobby Bonds. He was a great young player in his prime, but the year before, Bonds had set a single-season record with 189 whiffs. Richard got him to complete a striking out of the side.

And Richard was off. He didn’t strike anyone out in the fourth, but he made up for that by getting a pair in the fifth and another pair in the sixth. That was nine punchouts through two-thirds of the game. Meanwhile, Houston’s offense rallied to give him a 5-2 lead.

Richard got his 10th strikeout in the seventh inning. In the eighth, despite allowing an unearned run, Richard got another two strikeouts. That gave him an even dozen heading into the final frame. There, for the second time on the day, Richard struck out the side.

That gave him 15 whiffs in all. Not bad for a guy making his debut. In fact, it was one of the greatest debuts of all time. Richard would become a great strikeout artist, twice leading the league (1978-79), with over 300 Ks in a season each time. Unfortunately, in his prime, tragedy struck and Richard suffered a blood clot that nearly killed him.

But that was in the future. 15,000 days ago, Richard had as good a day as any first-time arm ever had.

Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim through things.


6,000 days since former big league pitcher Milt Gaston dies at the age of 100. He was 97-164 during his playing career.

7,000 days since the A’s trade Rickey Henderson to Toronto for Steve Karsay and one other player.

7,000 days since the Reds trade Tim Belcher to the White Sox.

7,000 days since the Royals trade a young Jon Lieber to the Pirates.

7,000 days since the Expos retire No. 8 for Gary Carter.

15,000 days since the Tigers use six pinch-hitters in the seventh inning versus the Yankees. New York wins anyway, 6-5.

15,000 days since Lou Brock enjoys perhaps his best offensive game, going 4-for-5 with three doubles, two runs, two RBIs, and two stolen bases in the Cardinals’ 12-5 win over the Cubs.

25,000 days since Joe Page, one of the first great relievers, makes his big league debut.


1862 Ed Morris, king of the pitching complete game, is born.

1866 Gus Weyhing, 200-game winner, is born.

1877 Hall of Famer Harry Wright plays in his final contest.

1879 Baseball’s reserve clause is born. It’s designed to limit player salaries and will go into effect in 1880. It survives for nearly 100 years.

1880 It’s the first professional baseball game played in Manhattan when the Metropolitans beat Washington, 4-2, at the Polo Grounds.

1881 Harry Stovey, at one point baseball’s all-time home run king, hits an inside-the-park grand slam.

1889 The Boston Braves purchases Hall of Fame pitcher Kid Nichols from Omaha of the Western League for $3,000.

1890 In the Players League, Boston’s Billy Nash hits into the rare walk-off triple play.

1894 Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward appears in his last game.

1902 Hall of Fame manager Wilbert Robinson plays in his last game.

1907 Gene Autry, longtime Angels owner, is born.

1907 Phillies pitcher George McQuillan begins his big league career with 32 consecutive shutout innings.

1908 Ed Walsh wins two games in one day, leading the White Sox to 5-1 and 2-0 wins over Boston. He allows just seven hits and one walk in all while fanning 15. It comes with the White Sox in the middle of a tight pennant race, too.

1915 Gene Packard, pitcher, homers while throwing a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win.

1919 Big-time gambler Arnold Rothstein decides to finance the World Series fix.

1919 Terry Turner, at one point a star infielder, appears in his last game.

1921 The Philadelphia A’s cumulative franchise record hits .500 (1,545-1,545). It’ll fall below and stay under .500 for six years.

1921 Hall of Fame outfielder Kiki Cuyler makes his big league debut.

1922 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Red Faber suffers his 100th loss. His record is 151-100.

1922 Frank “Home Run” Baker, the best third baseman of his generation, appears in his last regular-season game. He’ll also appears in that year’s World Series.

1923 Hack Wilson makes his big league debut.

1924 Cleveland infielder Bill Wambsganss lays down his 300th sacrifice hit, something only 11 men ever have done (four of them started on the 1919-20 Indians, though).

1924 Del Pratt, star infielder, plays in his last game.

1927 Babe Ruth enjoys his eighth multi-home run game of the year.

1927 Bob Shawkey pitches for the last time.

1928 The Tigers top the Yankees, 19-10, in a game that features an AL-record 45 hits. Detroit has 28 of them.

1929 Edd Roush legs out his 31st and final inside-the-park home run.

1929 Max Carey appears in his last game.

1934 Babe Ruth hits his 659th and final home run as a Yankee. It’s career home run No. 708.

1935 Earle Combs, Hall of Fame Yankee centerfielder, appears in his last game.

1935 Jocko Conlan appears in his last game as a player. He’ll transition to become a Hall of Fame umpire.

1935 Rabbit Maranville plays in his last game.

1935 Claude Passeau, pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1938 Mike McCormick, pitcher, is born.

1939 In his big league debut, teenager Hal Newhouser uncorks three wild pitches. He’ll never have that many in one outing again.

1940 After 35 years, legendary umpire Bill Klem works the plate for the last time. He’ll ump a bit next year, but this is it for the plate assignment.

1943 St. Louis Browns star Vern Stephens becomes the first person to homer twice in extra-innings in one game (the 11th and 13th innings).

1944 The Reds win, pushing Bill McKechnie’s career record 229 games over .500 (1,771-1,542). The Hall of Fame manager will tie this mark but never top it.

1945 George Van Haltren, star 19th century outfielder, dies.

1945 Lon Warneke, pitcher, plays in his last game.

1946 The A’s purchase walk machine Eddie Joost from Salt Lake City for $10,000.

1947 It’s announced that legendary skipper Joe McCarthy will come out of retirement and manage the Red Sox next year.

1947 The Pirates release pitcher Rip Sewell and Hall of Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg.

1949 Steve Busby, 1970s phenom pitcher that blew his arm out, is born.

1951 Bob Turley, pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1953 Bill Veeck sells the St. Louis Browns to a group from Baltimore, who will move the team there by Opening Day 1954, making them the Orioles.

1953 Lefty Tyler, Miracle Braves pitcher, dies.

1953 Warren Cromartie, outfielder, is born.

1954 Willie Mays makes his signature catch. In Game One of the World Series, he catches a Vic Wertz shot to deep center in the Polo Grounds and then turns around to relay the ball to the infield to prevent a run from scoring. The Giants win, 5-2 in 10 innings, on a walk-off home run.

1955 Bobby Hofman of the Giants hits into the NL’s first walk-off triple play since 1924.

1956 Indians manager Al Lopez announces he won’t return last year. He came in first or second place every year he’s been on the job, but team GM Hank Greenberg just publicly criticized him as “dull.”

1956 Brooks Robinson hits his first home run.

1956 Ernie Banks hits his only inside-the-park home run.

1956 Mel Parnell pitches in the major leagues for the last time.

1956 White Sox star second baseman Nellie Fox walks four times in a game for the only time in his career.

1957 The Dodgers play their last game with “Brooklyn” on their chests as they lose, 2-1, to Philadelphia. It’s also the last game in Roy Campanella’s career.

1957 The Giants lose their last game as a New York team, 9-1 to the Pirates.

1957 Ernie Banks enjoys his only five-hit game. He’s 5-for-5 with three doubles. It’s also his only three-double game.

1957 A young Harmon Killebrew plays second base for the last time.

1959 The Dodgers win the pennant, topping the Braves, 6-5 in 12 innings, in one of baseball’s forgotten great games. It ends the best-of-three series between the two teams that ended the regular season with tied records.

1959 Enos Slaughter appears in his last game.

1959 Andy Pafko plays in his last game.

1960 Rob Deer is born.

1961 The Mets hire their first manager, Casey Stengel.

1962 Hank Aaron suffers maybe his worst game ever at the plate, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Three whiffs is his personal worst. He does it other times, but this is the only time while going 0-for-5.

1963 Warren Spahn wins his 350th decision.

1963 Brooks Robinson plays a few innings at shortstop. It’s the last time he’ll be on the field at any position other than third.

1963 Stan Musial plays in his last game. St. Louis retires his No. 6 that day, too.

1963 John Paciorek plays his first, last, and only game, going 3-for-3 with a walk, three RBIs, and three runs. He’s arguably the greatest one-game player of all time.

1963 Wally Bunker makes his big league debut.

1963 Pete Rose plays in the outfield for the first time, lasting an inning in left.

1965 Cardinals ace Bob Gibson bashes a grand slam off Hall of Fame hurler Gaylord Perry.

1965 Pat Corrales reaches base twice in one game via catcher’s interference, something that’s happened just six times since 1920. Incredibly, two of those times happen to Corrales in late 1965 (the other one was Aug. 15).

1966 Astros pitcher Don Wilson makes his big league debut.

1968 Dick Allen hits three home runs in one game.

1968 Two former star Yankees appear in their last games, both with different teams: Elston Howard and Roger Maris.

1969 Rico Petrocelli becomes the first AL shortstop to hit 40 home runs in one season.

1969 Tommy Leach, star player whose big league career began in 1898, dies.

1971 For the third time, Bert Blyleven throws a complete-game shutout for a 1-0 win. He’ll record 15 of those 1-0 wins, the most by any pitcher since Walter Johnson.

1971 Ron Hunt gets hit by pitch for the 50th time this season.

1973 Lou Brock, at age 34, hits two triples in one game. It’s the third and final time he does that in his career.

1974 Ron Santo plays in his last game.

1975 Casey Stengel, Hall of Fame manager, dies.

1976 John Montefusco throws a no-hitter for a 9-0 win. He walks one and fans four.

1976 As the season nears its end, a bunch of players appear in their last game, including Cesar Tovar, Tony Oliva, Tony Taylor, and Tommy Harper.

1976 A young pitcher named Rick Sutcliffe makes his big league debut with the Dodgers. Also debuting that day for the Dodgers is new manager Tommy Lasorda.

1976 Graig Nettles has perhaps the greatest game of his career. He’s 4-for-5 with two doubles and two home runs with four runs, and six RBIs. The Yankees top the Red Sox, 9-6.

1977 The St. Louis Cardinals release aging infielder Tony LaRussa.

1978 Jim Bouton appears in his last game, ending his unlikely big league comeback.

1978 Davey Johnson, now Nationals manager, plays in his last contest.

1979 Former star Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis plays in his last game.

1980 Two Hall of Fame managers pick up milestone achievements. Sparky Anderson wins his 1,000th for a 1,000-711 record. Earl Weaver helms his 2,000th game. His record is 1,196-804.

1981 Former Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone appears in his last game. He’s actually the defending AL Cy Young Award winner at this point, too.

1983 Johnny Bench appears in his last game.

1983 A’s pitcher Mike Warren no-hits the White Sox in a 3-0 win.

1985 For the second time in his career, Earl Weaver is ejected from both games in a doubleheader. In the second game, he’s ejected before the first pitch! Longtime Baltimore second baseman Rich Dauer appears in his last game on the day, too.

1985 Good hitter Sixto Lezcano appears in his last game.

1986 Enos Cabell plays in his last game.

1987 Ricky Henderson steals in his 700th base.

1987 Don Mattingly hits his sixth grand slam of the year, a record.

1988 The Cubs trade catcher Jody Davis to the Braves.

1989 Cardinals owner August “Gussie” Busch dies at age 90.

1989 Rick Rhoden, one of the game’s best-hitting pitchers, appears in his last game.

1990 Greg Minton, a hard pitcher to homer against, plays in his last game.

1990 Boston’s Tom Brunansky hits three home runs in one game.

1993 A young Sammy Sosa steals four bases in one game.

1995 Candy Maldonado, Scott Fletcher, and Jose Oquendo appear in their last game. It’s not the same game, though.

1996 The Houston Astros retire No. 34 for Nolan Ryan.

1996 Aside from a token appearance 15 years later, this marks the last time Jim Thome plays third base.

1996 A slew of players appear in their last game as the season nears its end including Andre Dawson, Alan Trammell, Ozzie Smith, Tim Wallach, and Dick Schofield. Also, John McNamara manages his final survey.

1998 The Yankees purchase Alfonso Soriano from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

1999 Michael Young appears in his first major league game.

2000 Dwight Gooden appears in his last game.

2001 Miguel Tejada hits for the cycle.

2001 Roy Halladay throws a personal-worst three wild pitches in one game.

2002 Once again, the season is ending, and that of course means many veterans appear in their final regular-season games. The most notable ones this year are David Justice, Tim Raines, Travis Fryman, Andy Benes, John Valentin, Shawon Dunston, and Jay Bell.

2004 Bobby Cox notches his 2,000th win. His career record is 2,000-1,530.

2004 Jeff Kent hits his 300th home run.

2004 MLB officially announces that the Expos will move to Washington and become the Nationals. The Expos play their last game in Montreal, losing 9-1 to Florida.

2005 Tom Glavine ties his personal high with a Game Score of 92. His line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, and 11 K. Oddly enough, both of his 92 Game Scores come during his days as a Met.

2006 Phil Nevin appears in his last game.

2007 In his next-to-last game, Houston’s Craig Biggio spends two innings behind the plate. It’s his first time there in 16 years.

2007 Another batch of players appear in their last game, including Sammy Sosa Kenny Lofton, Shawn Green, Timo Perez, and Jose Mesa.

2009 Adam Lind hits three homers in one game.

2010 PBS airs Ken Burns’ Baseball: Bottom of the 10th Inning.

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  1. Steve Treder said...

    I was at that J.R. Richard debut game.  He wasn’t going by “J.R.” yet, it was “James Rodney.”  A peculiar name for a gangly kid I’d never heard of.  He got our attention.

    It was the second game of a doubleheader sweep by the Astros in which the Giants struck out 26 times.  Very aggravating.  Coming into the doubleheader, the Giants had won five straight and were 8.5 games ahead in the division.  This sweep started them on a ghastly slide in which they lost 11 of 12 and the lead had been shaved to one game.  Man, that was a nailbiting September.

  2. Chris J. said...

    Another game you attended will be mentioned in my column tomorrow. (Actually two will, since I mention this one again in it).

  3. Andy R said...

    Steve, I was at that game also. Even sitting in general admission, Richard looked huge! The fastball was incredible. If I remember, Willie McCovey was injured most of that September, which was a big reason for the Giants’ slump.

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