In Memory of Jim Umbricht

Jim Umbricht Dead; Pitcher on Colts, 33
The New York Times
April 8, 1964

(c) Houston Astros
HOUSTON, April 8 (AP) - Jim Umbricht, Houston Colt right-handed relief pitcher, died today of cancer. He was 33 years old.

Despite a six-hour operation on March 7, 1963, he was in uniform on opening day last season and before the season ended he compiled a 4-3 record in 76 innings as a relief pitcher. He gave up 52 hits, struck out 48 batters, allowed 21 walks and had a 2.61 earned run average.

The Colts purchased Umbricht from the Pittsburgh Pirates for $50,000 in the National League player pool in 1961. In Houston's first year in the majors, 1962, he had a 4-0 record.

His five-year record at Pittsburgh and Houston was 194 innings in 88 games for a 9-5 record and a 3.06 earned run average.

The athlete was a graduate of the University of Georgia, where he played both baseball and basketball. In 1951 he was named All-Southeastern Conference shortstop.

(c) Houston Astros

Big League ball was always Umbricht's goal

by Loran Smith
Athens (GA) Banner-Herald
February 21, 2003

HOUSTON - During spring training at Apache Junction, Ariz., several years back, the late Jim Umbricht was playing golf with Paul Richards and told the longtime big league manager and general manager that a small lump had developed on his leg.

He didn't seem concerned, but when they finished, Richards told Umbricht he wanted to take a look. While the boss of the Houston team, then known as the Colt .45s, was far from a medical expert, he sensed that it was urgent to send Umbricht back to Houston. Umbricht checked into the famed M. D. Anderson Cancer Clinic and learned the bad news that he had a malignancy. His cancer was lymphoma, and unfortunately it had spread.

Umbricht, a shortstop turned pitcher, went on with his life as though nothing had happened, and pitched a season of professional baseball. But he was overcome by the disease and died within three years of diagnosis.

Born in Chicago, Umbricht, who stood 6-foot-5, grew up with an intense desire to play major league baseball. He played pickup games in a city park near his house with friends and his older brother, Ed. His brother remembers that Jim would go out and work all day long at one particular phase of the sport like running bases. In the summers, Umbricht stayed on the playground sunup to supper time.

He also was a talented basketball player, and when his father was transferred to the Atlanta area in 1946, Umbricht became a highly regarded prep star at Decatur High School.

When he began considering college scholarship offers, Umbricht chose the University of Georgia where he played basketball and baseball and was voted captain of both squads as a senior in Athens. Football coach, Wallace Butts, wanted him to play football but Umbricht was concerned about risking injury. He politely declined so he could concentrate on his goal of playing major league baseball.

It took Umbricht eight years, counting two years in the Army (where he became a pitcher), to make it to the big leagues. His future looked promising when the big right hander made the roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959. He was a member of the 1960 World Champion Pirate team that defeated the Yankees in the World Series. It was Umbricht's tough-minded, courageous makeup that got Paul Richards' attention. A seasoned baseball observer, Richards took a liking to Umbricht right away which is why he asked the former Bulldog to play golf with him every afternoon during spring training.

On the golf course they talked baseball, teacher and student, with Richards imparting knowledge of his lengthy career in the majors as a player, manager and front office administrator.

He knew about Umbricht paying his way to a Milwaukee Braves tryout camp in Waycross when he broke into professional baseball in 1953.

Richards also knew he had a player with the Houston team who would work harder than the rest. One who was eager to learn and improve. One you could call on in those tough situations when you needed a big pitch.

So well liked and appreciated by players and management of the Houston team, when Umbricht died, his jersey was retired and now hangs in the new and beautiful Astros' stadium, Minute Maid Field.

Over coffee at a Marriott Hotel less than 15 minutes away from the cozy, picturesque stadium, Ed Umbricht talks about his brother and how people still come up to him and express their appreciation for Jim's courage and outgoing personality. Ed wants Georgia to consider his brother for its athletic hall of fame, the Circle of Honor.

''He was a great athlete, and he was not only my brother, he was my best friend. I don't want him to be forgotten,'' Ed said.