#389 Jim Umbricht
This is a special card for a number of reasons, but one is that it’s a great full shot of the Houston uniform of the era. This picture, from 1963, shows Umbricht wearing the road uniform (even though it looks white in the photo). The Colt .45s became the Astros in 1965.
This card is in great shape, but it’s nearly a complete miscut. Probably could be an EX-MT if not for the major flaw.
As you can see from the back of this card, Jim Umbricht died just five days before the beginning of the 1964 season, making this his final card. He had a tumor removed before the 1963 season, after which he had his second straight impressive season out of the Houston bullpen. But his cancer eventually returned, and he succumbed to melanoma at age 33.
Unlike Ken Hubbs, Umbricht did not get a special memorial card from Topps. Instead, they just issued his regular card with a note on the reverse. Hubbs likely earned a more formal memorial because of his youth, rising star status, circumstances of his death (a plane crash), and perhaps most importantly the fact that his death came in February, giving Topps enough time to put together a card.
Umbricht, however, was well-known at the time for his battle with cancer, and the Colts retired his number shortly after his death. The team’s MVP award is still named in his honor.
He was a late bloomer, not reaching the majors until the age of 28. As the back of his card notes, he was an infielder who was converted to a pitcher in his the mid-1950s. After 19 unremarkable pitching appearances over three seasons with the Pirates, Houston picked Umbricht in the 1961 expansion draft.
Over two seasons with the Colts, during which he pitched 143 innings, he posted a 2.33 ERA (148 ERA+) and 0.986 WHIP. This despite dealing with his cancer for much of that span.
The Colts actually weren’t horrible on the mound, and Umbricht was one of a number of Houston pitchers with decent numbers. But they were an abysmal offensive club (in 1963 they scored fewer than 3 runs per game with 62 total home runs and a .584 team OPS ).
Umbricht earned the win in his final appearance, on September 29, 1963 — a 4-3 win over the Mets at Houston’s Colt Stadium.
I’ve sponsored Umbricht’s Baseball-Reference page.
NOTE: Reader Douglas (thanks for the note) asks if the stadium pictured here is the Polo Grounds. I’m not a stadium photo sleuth by any stretch, but it does appear to be the Polo Grounds, based on photos I’ve seen of that stadium, as well as other Colts photos from this set (and Mets photos from this set). It looks like many of the Colts had their ’64 Topps picture taken at this park. 1963 was the last season the Mets played there (and the last year baseball was played there at all).