Astros in the Sky
The Deadball Era
Born: Sep 17, 1930
The Houston Colt .45s were mostly a collection of kids and cast-offs but Jim Umbricht served as a reminder of how fortunate each and every one of them were to be playing baseball.
The native of Chicago saw limited action with the Pirates for three seasons when he was selected by Houston in the expansion draft. Umbricht (pron: UM-brite) was the only Colt .45 to produce winning records in both of the first two seasons. He compiled an 8-3 record with two saves and a 2.33 ERA in his two seasons with the Colts, making his career record 9-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 88 games.
During spring training in 1963, he was playing golf - the sport he loved most - when he mentioned he was feeling some pain in his leg. He roled up his pants leg and shocked his playing partner, General Manager Paul Richards, with a lump. Richards suggested he have it looked at back in Houston and it was discovered he had a malignant cancer that had already spread.
In March, doctors operated to remove the cancer they found. It took 6-1/2 hours of surgery but, two months later, Umbricht was back on the mound with the Colts with still 100 stitches in his body.
Unfortunately, the cancer returned and, by the following spring, Umbricht and his teammates knew the end was quickly approaching. He was connected by phone to his teammates in April with a wish to be kept alive until Opening Day.
He didn't make it. Jim Umbricht passed away on April 8, 1964 at age 33. Five days later, his roommate, Ken Johnson, beat Cincinnati, 6-3, in the traditional season opener. Umbricht's ashes were scattered over the Astrodome construction site.
Umbricht's number 32 was the first jersey number retired in franchise history. For his courage and positive attitude, the Colts changed their team's Most Valuable Player Award to the Jim Umbricht Award. His retired number remains above the rafters of Minute Maid Park.