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Jim Umbricht, Houston Pitcher, Dies of Cancer

Apr. 8, 1964 - Jim Umbricht, Houston Colt right-handed relief pitcher, died today after battling a rapidly spreading cancer for a month.

Umbricht, 33, had made a remarkable comeback with a 4-3 record with the Colts last season despite having undergone cancer surgery just a month before the season started. He was in uniform on opening day although doctors were not certain the groin and leg surgery had done a complete job of removing the cancerous growth. Nevertheless, he was one of the National League’s leading relief pitchers the second half of the 1963 season, pitching 76 innings in 35 games and compiling a 2.61 earned run average.

The disease began to reappear in the chest area last December, but Umbricht and Colt officials kept the development a closely guarded secret. Umbricht meanwhile played golf regularly and joked with such stars as Willie Mays and Whitey Ford at a Jan. 21 baseball dinner. He was honored six days later at a similar Philadelphia dinner as the most courageous athlete of 1963.

“Some of us don’t have time to slow down and take stock of ourselves,” Umbricht said in accepting the Philadelphia award. “But six weeks in a hospital bed gives you time to think — and come out of there a better human being. I’m sure everything will come out all right.”

Umbricht did not go to Cocoa, Fla., when the Colts opened spring training there in late February. The Colts signed Umbricht to a scout’s contract, and the National League gave special permission for the contract to be signed without Umbricht going through waiver formalities. It was understood that Umbricht would return to the Colt active roster when his physical condition permitted.

But the cancer continued to spread, and Umbricht entered the University of Texas Hospital and Tumor Institute on March 16. By that time, doctors said he had only days to live.

Survivors include the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Umbricht of Houston, and a brother, Ed. Cremation will follow the Friday afternoon funeral services at which Russ Kemmerer, a former teammate now with Houston’s Oklahoma City farm club, will give the eulogy.

Houston’s scheduled exhibition game with Milwaukee at Cocoa on Friday was canceled. Manager Harry Craft, infielder Bob Lillis, and pitcher Ken Johnson will fly to Houston from Cocoa for the services.

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