RIP to Tom Urbani, a left-handed pitcher for played for four seasons in the majors in the 1990s. He died on September 28 at the age of 54. Urbani pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals (1993-96) and Detroit Tigers (1996). He later ran a baseball school in his native California.
Thomas James Urbani was born in Santa Cruz, Calif., on January 21, 1968. His family was a pillar of the Italian community in Santa Cruz. Urbani’s great-grandfather, Giuseppi, came to America in 1906 and built a house and bocci ball gardens as a place for the community to gather. It eventually became a restaurant called Bocci Cellars; Urbani was a busboy there as he was growing up.
According to an obituary in the Marin Independent Journal, playing baseball was a passion for him that dated back to grade school. Many kids want to be baseball players when they grow up, but when Urbani reached Harbor High School in Santa Cruz, he showed the ability to bring his dream to life. In his junior year of 1985, he was named to the All-County Team and also awarded as Junior of the Year. Urbani batted .409 with 15 RBIs as a first baseman and was 6-0 with a 1.83 ERA as a pitcher. “He’s a real competitor and he hates to lose. He has unlimited talent,” said his Harbor coach, Nick Adams.
Urbani played even better as a senior. He threw a no-hitter and homered in his first appearance of the year. He hit .458 as a senior and had a 9-3 record and 1.13 ERA as a pitcher. The Kansas City Royals drafted him in the 33rd Round of the 1986 June Amateur Draft, but he declined to sign. He went to Cabrillo College then California State University, Long Beach for college, and he continued to pile up accolades and get drafted. Texas selected him in the 34th Round in 1988, and Minnesota picked him in the 29th Round in 1989. Finally, the St. Louis Cardinals made him the team’s 12th-Round pick in 1990, and Urbani signed.
Maybe early on, Urbani would have been in a rush to take the first offer and start his pro career. However, learning to not rush when the moment wasn’t right came with a hard lesson. In 1988, he lost a good friend and former Cabrillo College teammate, Gregg Wagner, in a car accident. “[H]aving a friend taken away from you… a part of you is lost too,” he explained. “After what happened with Gregg, it seemed to change my feelings about everything. I really know you have to just live each day the best you can, like it could be your last.”
After he signed, the Cardinals sent Urbani to Johnson City of the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 1990. He pitched well there but struggled when he was promoted to the Low-A Hamilton Redbirds. He won a combined 11 games while pitching for St. Petersburg and Springfield in 1991, with a 2.27 ERA. He struck out 106 batters in 166-1/3 innings with a WHIP of 1.112. Urbani moved up to Double-A Arkansas in 1992 and had a 1.93 ERA in 10 starts. He credited pitching coach Marty Mason with his success. “He got me pitching inside and off-speed pitches. I don’t throw too hard — 83 or 84 — so what I’m trying to do is master four pitches so I can throw strikes anytime.”
Urbani finished the 1992 season with Triple-A Louisville and made a strong bid to join the Cardinals 1993 pitching staff in spring training. He was the last pitcher cut in the spring, but he didn’t stay in Louisville long. He was brought to the majors in April when starting pitcher Rene Arocha broke his finger on a line drive by Colorado Rockies slugger Dante Bichette. Urbani debuted against that same Rockies team on April 21 and allowed 3 runs in 2 innings pitched, with all the damage coming from a home run off… Dante Bichette. Urbani was hit hard in each successive relief outing and was sent back to the minors in May. He reappeared in the Cardinals bullpen in June to replace an injured Omar Olivares and pitched much better. In 4 relief outings in June, he had a fine 2.70 ERA before returning to Louisville. The Cardinals brought Urbani back for a third time in August of 1993. He was inserted into the starting rotation and made 9 starts before the close of the season. He won 1 and lost 2 but had a fair 3.73 ERA as a starter. In his first major-league win, Urbani held the Giants to 2 runs over 7-1/3 innings in a 6-2 win. Many of his family and friends were in Candlestick Park to watch the game that day. Over his three stints with St. Louis, Urbani had a 1-2 record and 4.65 ERA, with 33 strikeouts and 26 walks in 62 innings.
Urbani went into 1994 with the role of left-handed setup man in the Cardinals bullpen. While he was unused to the role of reliever, he was determined to make it work. “It makes you a tougher person. You don’t want your team to battle for seven innings, then go out there and be the goat… I’m just going with the flow with what they want. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay in the big leagues and hang with it,” he told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Much like the previous season, the Cardinals never kept Urbani in the same role for very long. He began the season as a reliever, moved into the starting rotation for a month and then relieved again before being sent back to Louisville in early June. He then was brought to the majors as an emergency starter to pitch the opening game of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on July 22. Urbani came within two outs of throwing a shutout. He fanned 8 Braves and scattered 5 hits before Arocha retired the final two batters of a 5-0 win. Urbani worked as a starter until the season ended abruptly because of the player’s strike, leaving him with a 3-7 record and 5.15 ERA.
Urbani’s best season as a Cardinal came in 1995. He made 24 appearances, including 13 starts, and threw a career-high 82-2/3 innings in the majors. His record was a mere 3-5, but he had a 3.70 ERA and an ERA+ of 112. Aside from a stint in the disabled list in May and June and a couple of rehab starts in Louisville, he stayed with the Cardinals for the entire season. He even picked up an improved changeup from pitching coach Mark Riggins, which put less stress on his shoulder. For once, he wasn’t the first person the Cardinals put on the shuttle to Louisville whenever they felt like making a change to the pitching staff.
“All I’ve ever wanted since I’ve been here was that when I pitch, whether it’s out of the bullpen or the starting rotation, is for people to have confidence in me,” he told St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Mike Eisenbath. “I wanted to feel that I didn’t have to look back over my shoulder when I was having a bad outing.”
Urbani saved his best work for the month of August, when he worked 15-1/3 innings in 7 relief outings and a spot start against San Diego. he had a 1.76 ERA over that span, with 15 strikeouts and just 4 walks. But his most satisfying performance of the season may have been the start against the Chicago Cubs on June 30, 1995. The Cardinals won 3-1, and Urbani threw 6 innings and allowed a run on 7 hits. But the former first baseman also hit a solo home run off Frank Castillo to add an insurance run.
Over the offseason, Urbani underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, and he probably rushed back out of fear of losing his roster spot. He suffered from a dead arm and pitched badly in spring training, but he felt much better in a relief outing against the Reds in St. Petersburg. He also hit a grand slam, leaving manager Tony La Russa open to the idea of giving Urbani some at-bats during the season. Unfortunately, the regular season didn’t work out that way.
Eisenbath of the Post-Dispatch pointed out that Urbani was used exclusively as a starter in the minors, but the Cardinals never had a defined role for him. The left-handed made 2 starts for the Cardinals at the start of the season. He gave up 4 runs in 6 innings in a no-decision against Atlanta on April 5, and then he beat the Phillies on April 12, allowing a run in 5-1/3 innings. Despite the win, Urbani was thrown into a relief role against Pittsburgh on April 16 and was bombed by the Bucs. He retired 2 batters and gave up a grand slam to Jay Bell. The performance raised his ERA to 7.71, and St. Louis sent him back to Louisville. On June 7, Urbani and infielder Miguel Inzunza were traded to the Detroit Tigers for pitcher Brian Maxcy and outfielder Micah Franklin. He made two starts for the Tigers but failed to make it out of the fifth inning in either one. He was moved to the bullpen, where he was ineffective and was sent to the minors in August with an 8.37 ERA in 16 appearances. He did not return to the majors.
Urbani made a total of 81 appearances over 4 seasons in the major leagues, including 36 starts. He had a 10-17 record and a 4.98 ERA. In 260-1/3 innings pitched, he struck out 149 batters and walked 86. He had a WHIP of 1.544. As a hitter, Urbani hit .246, with 16 base hits, including a double and home run.
Urbani signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers in 1997 and was an effective reliever with the Oklahoma City 89ers. However, he was released in June in what could have been a cost-cutting move. The 30-year-old veteran was making an estimated $10,000 a month, which was about twice as much as most of the other minor-leaguers were making. He finished the season with the Montreal Expos’ Triple-A affiliate in Ottawa. When Urbani failed to break training camp in 1998 with Boston, he prepared to retire. However, he was offered a role back in Louisville with the Cardinals organization. He won a couple of games there, but with no promotion to St. Louis in sight, the 30-year elected to retire and come back to his home in Carson City, Nevada. When he least expected it, a couple of opportunities came his way. He pitched a few games for the Reno Chukars of the Independent Western League in 1998, because he was friends with the manager. Then, as he was looking for his post-baseball career, Urbani was offered an opportunity to go to Italy and play professionally for Semenzato Rimini. The pay was good, and his arm was strong enough that he pitched a perfect game. Better still, the league’s relaxed schedule allowed him plenty of time to spend with his wife Lisa and children. He was given an opportunity to pitch for Italy in the 2000 Olympic Games, but he turned it down and returned to Santa Cruz.
Urbani had long wanted to get involved with youth coaching, and he dove into it when he moved back to California. In addition to giving one-on-one lessons, he coached at Harbor High and Scotts Valley High. He eventually settled in Folsom, Calif., and operated the Urbani Baseball training school. He also worked as a mortgage consultant when he wasn’t involved in baseball.
Urbani is survived by his wife, Lisa; children Cody, Vanessa and Gabe, and granddaughter Briella. The following words is something he wrote on his school’s Facebook page in 2019:
“Players. Do not let the fear of not achieving your dreams override your pursuit of it. If this occurs, the thrill of the chase is over! You can do or be anything you want in this world. Please believe that! We live in a pessimistic world, filled with negative information. Some from those closest to us, trying to keep us safe and realistic. What we feed our minds and what we believe internally flows outwardly through our actions. Dream big! Imagine you at your very best, and pursue it with all you have to give. Pursue it from your heart and soul. One thing I have learned in my 51 years is this. If your dream happens to hit a wall that you can’t seem to get through, most certainly another door will open for you, and you will be amazed as to what is on the other side of that door if you don’t quit on yourself. It all begins with a dream, and pursue it as if nothing can stand in your way!!”
For more information: Marin Independent Journal
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6 thoughts on “Obituary: Tom Urbani (1968-2022)”
I stumbled across this today and can’t tell you how blown away and incredibly happy I was. Tom is my half brother (real brothers). Out family and friends are all very happy to see this, thank you very much!!!
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Matt, my condolences to you on the loss of your brother. He had a really interesting life and career, and I hope I was able to do him justice!
Tommy was such an incredible competitor and friend that the world won’t be the same place without him. So many people who have played at higher levels get into coaching for money, or for their ego. That was not why Tom did it, he TRULY wanted to pass along his knowledge to kids who may have never had the opportunity to learn from a big leaguer.
Gonna miss you lefty, but so glad we became brothers!
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I was Tom’s clubhouse manager with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a wonderful person. I really enjoyed our time together. RIP, “Urbie”, Buddy Bates, St. Louis Cardinals( retired)
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Coach Urbani made such an impact on my son and his team at Harbor High. He gave so much, and expected a lot in return. He gave his knowledge, his wisdom, his home and his food. And what he got in return was a bonded, supportive, solid group of 11 seniors on his varsity squad. And when covid shut their senior season down in 2020, they would play Minecraft together and even started a baseball “podcast”. It is not a stretch to say that what Tom taught them in baseball prior to covid, made them healthier and more resilient humans as the pandemic continued to rob them of so much that year (their season, their graduation, family & friends, etc). I will forever be grateful for that more than anything – that he fostered and nurtured along those friendships and that team. That team that helped get my son and others through one of the most difficult times of their lives. May we all forever be surrounded by that kind of love and support. RIP Coach Urbani ❤
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