A stroke robbed J.R. Richard of his place among the immortals, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, but it didn’t keep the former strikeout king from joining an elite list of players in the Class of 2018 Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s Hall of Game.
The Hall of Game was established in 2014 and honors former Major League Baseball players who competed with the passion, determination, flair and skill of the Negro Leaguers.
“Each of these players were phenomenal athletes who achieved remarkable stats and records,” NLBM president Bob Kendrick said, “fans couldn’t take their eyes off of them because if they did, they might miss something.
“They played the game with a little bit of flair, and that’s why they are here today.”
Richard, who led the National League in strikeouts in 1978 and 1979 and was the starting pitcher in the 1980 All-Star Game, saw his career come crashing down following a stroke that led to homelessness and despair.
But through his newfound faith in God, he rebounded, and Saturday night at the Gem Theater he joined Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, former American League MVP Dick Allen and former stolen base king Kenny Lofton on the stage of the Gem Theater, located at 18th and Vine across the street from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and he had an appreciative crowd in the palm of his hand.
“I am peacock proud and honeymoon happy,” said Richard, who turned the event into a joyful revival. “For this museum to remember me and honor me alongside these great men is truly special. I am so thankful.”
Murray, one of the premier switch-hitters in the history of the game, was the third player to collect 500 home runs and 3,000 hits and drive home 1,500 runs, joining fellow Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in that elite company.
When asked what it meant to be inducted into the Hall of Game, Murray laughed and said, “I can sum it up in one word – Gates!”
He was referring to Gates Barbecue, one of his favorite haunts when he visited Kansas City while playing with the Baltimore Orioles.
“What an honor to come back to Kansas City and take part in a wonderful ceremony like this. I am humbled,” Murray said.
So was Allen, one of the most feared offensive players during baseball’s 1970s deadball eras.
When asked who the hardest hitter he ever saw, the wily Allen quipped, “My mother. Her name was Era – just like the ERA in baseball. And you can talk about Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Babe Ruth, but not one hit harder than my mother Era. When one of us boys got in trouble and she got that switch – oh my goodness. Some days I got four hits a day.”
Lofton, the youngest member of the group, was a stolen base phenom for the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves.
“The opportunity to come here and see the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – which is so much bigger and better than when I saw it several years ago – and share the memories and thes stories with my fellow inductees makes this a very special day for me,” Lofton said.
Jim “Mudcat” Grant was also inducted, but was unable to make the trip to Kansas City. He was the first black pitcher to win 20 games, achieving that feat for the 1965 Minnesota Twins.
Other notables at the event were former Kansas City Royals all-star Amos Otis and former Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, Murray’s high school teammate at Locke High School in Southern California, in both baseball and basketball.