April 8th has been a day to forget for the Astros. It's the day that Dickie Thon's career was forever changed by a Mike Torrez pitch in 1984. It was also the day that Jim Umbricht lost his battle with malignant melanoma in 1964.
There have recently been many questions raised about the numbers that the Astros have retired over the year. The question is more specifically the idea that Astros have been too liberal with their retirement of jersey numbers, and if Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt deserve the honor. Many of the names above the retired numbers are well know even without the honor, Wynn, Dierker, Cruz, Scott, Ryan, Biggio, and Bagwell. On the other hand, he name Umbricht normally prompted questions of "who?" or a quick Google search.
Jim Umbricht was born in Chicago in 1930, his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 19461. He attended the University of Georgia on a scholarship to play baseball and basketball2. During his time between the hedges, Umbricht was named captain on both teams3. Umbricht would serve in the army during the 1954 and 1995 season. He would return to baseball in 1956, and would be called up by the Pirates in 19594.
Umbricht pitched 51 innings with the Bucs over three seasons, including four starts5. He posted a 5.18 ERA and 1.667 WHIP during that time. Umbricht was selected in 1961 Major League Baseball expansion draft by the Houston Colt .45s6. He quickly became one the best refield pitcher in the National League, used mostly as a setup man. Umbricht allowed 15 runs, walked 17, and struck out 55 over 67 innings7.
Umbricht found grown on his left just before Spring Training in 1963, it was later diagnosed as malignant melanoma8. Doctors believe that Umbrcht was cured and he was in uniform for Opening Day - returning on May 9 with a hundred stiches. He would pitch 76 innings in 1963, recording a 2.61 ERA9.
During the offseason, Umbricht found out the cancer had returned and had spread through out his body- he was only given months to live10. Umbricht succumbed on April 8, 196411. His ashes were scattered over the Astrodome construction site12. The Astros would wear a black band on their uniform for the entire 1964 season13. In 1965, Jim Umbricht's 32 was the first number retired by the Astros.
Dickie Thon was an up and coming shortstop for the Astros from Notre Dame. FanGraphs notes he posted a 5.1 WAR in 1982 and 7.2 in 1983. The future was bright for Thon until April 8, 1984. Thon was hit by pitch thrown by Mike Torrez, fracturing his orbital rim. He was never the same.
Now we turn to our fellow Astros blog, Astros County, Thon is the blog's patron saint. Astros County has Thon's full history before and after the event.
It's important we understand the history before we look to the future. Umbricht and Thon are necessary stories that should be told in Astros history. Before any changes are made, that the very least we should know the story behind the name.
1,10,11,12,13.Zimniuch, Frank (2007). Shortened Seasons: The Untimely Deaths of Major League Baseball's Starts and Journeymen. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing.
2,3,4. Smith, Loran (February 21, 2003). "Smith: Big League ball was always Umbricht's goal". OnlineAthens. Athens
2Banner-Herald. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
5,6,7,8,"Jim Umbricht Minor League Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
9. Jim Umbricht Dies of Cancer". The Pittsburgh Press (April 8, 1964). United Press International. p. 29. Retrieved 8 April 2014.