Baseball History: J.R. Richard and Karl Spooner

jr richard 1972Winning your first game as a starting pitcher is quite an accomplishment, but add a major league record and you can be in a class by yourself.

In this case, however, it’s a group of two.

J.R. Richard of the Houston Astros and Karl Spooner of the Brooklyn Dodgers share the big league mark with 15 strikeouts in their first game in the majors.

Richard had the San Francisco Giants swinging and missing a lot as the Astros won 5-3 in a complete game effort 44 years ago on Sept. 5, 1971.

The 21-year old fanned Willie Mays and Dick Dietz three times each. He would finish the 1971 season with a 2-1 record in four contests.

For the next three seasons, Richard bounced back and forth between the Astros and the minors. By 1975, he was 12-10 and on his way.

The right-hander was the Opening Day starter in 1976 and would go on to post a career best win total with a 20-15 mark.

From 1977 to 1979, Richard won 18 contests in each season. He led the National League in strikeouts with 303 in 1978 and 313 in 1979.

In 1980, Richard was an all-star with a 10-4 record with an ERA of 1.90 when he suffered a stroke on July 30. Although he would attempt a comeback, his career was over. He was 107-71 in 10 seasons with a 3.15 ERA.

karl spooner 1955Lefty Domination

Spooner was called up to the Dodgers in 1954, after posting a 21-9 mark for Fort Worth. His time in the big leagues began with a 2-0 record with the Dodgers that year.

In his first start on Sept. 22, Spooner blanked the eventual world champion New York Giants 3-0 at Ebbets Field on three hits to go with his 15 strikeouts.

The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t fare much better in Spooner’s next start on Sept. 26. The left-hander tossed a 1-0 complete game with a dozen strikeouts, while allowing four hits.

From that point, Spooner wouldn’t have much luck. After an injury plagued 1955, Spooner never played in the big leagues again.

He was 8-6 as the Dodgers won their first and only World Series in Brooklyn. Spooner’s last appearance for the Dodgers was in game six of the World Series as he started and lost that contest.

Spooner spent the next three years in the minors and retired prior to the 1959 season.

Another Performance with 15 Ks

For those wondering about Cleveland Indians legend Bob Feller, yes he had 15 strikeouts in his first start in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Browns on Aug. 23, 1936.

However, unlike Richard and Spooner, that was not the National Baseball Hall of Fame member’s major league debut.

The 17-year old Feller had appeared in six games before his initial start. His first game was at Washington in the second contest of a doubleheader in Washington on July 19. Feller tossed a scoreless inning in a 9-5 loss by the Indians with two walks and no strikeouts.


One thought on “Baseball History: J.R. Richard and Karl Spooner

  1. J.R. Richard was an incredible pitcher who unfortunately was struck down by an untimely illness. Too bad, he could have been one of the greatest.
    As for Karl Spooner, what a story of very short-term success and fame followed by a career ending injury (some say self-inflicted in the off season).


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