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The Amazing Jim Abbott

Jim Abbott is a lefthanded pitcher who pitched ten years in Major League Baseball (1989-1999).  He pitched six years with the California Angels and also spent time playing for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Milwaukee Brewers.  Abbott’s career totals include 87 games won, 108 games lost, and a 4.25 Earned Run Average in 263 games (254 starts) and 1674 innings pitched. 

Abbott’s best season was 1991, his third year with the Angels, when he won 18 games with a 2.89 ERA in 34 starts and 243 innings pitched.  He followed that with a 2.77 ERA in 29 starts in 1992, but only won 7 games that year.  In Sept 1993 while pitching for the Yankees, Abbott had his finest performance when he threw a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. His worst season was in 1996, after returning to the Angels, winning only 2 games and losing 18 with a 7.48 ERA.  Before that awful season, he had been a reliable starter who usually kept his team in the game and gave them a chance to win.

It was a solid but not spectacular career, but he was never quite an all-star and his numbers were not worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.  There are many other lefthanded pitchers with comparable or better statistics who won’t make it into our book, because our focus is on best players in each era.  What makes Jim Abbott worthy of attention and admiration is that he became a major league pitcher despite being born without a right hand.  His right arm is perfectly intact and mobile, but it ends with a flap of skin over the arm bone, just at the point where the wrist would attach to the hand.

Abbott’s parents tried to get him to play soccer but he wanted to catch and throw a ball just like all the other kids.  When he pitched he rested his fielders’ glove on his right forearm, and after he threw the ball he quickly slipped the glove onto his left hand and was ready to field his position.  When he caught the ball in his glove, he would flip the ball in the air, remove the glove from his hand, and then catch the ball in his bare hand to complete the throw across the infield.      

Abbott was a top rated high school pitcher from Flint, Michigan, and a quarterback and a punter on the football team, who chose to attend University of Michigan on a baseball scholarship.  He was voted the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1987, and led the US Baseball Team in the 1987 Pan Am Games and the 1988 Olympic Games.  After three years in college, he was drafted by the California Angels as the eighth overall pick of the 1988 amateur draft.

Abbott’s pitching skills were so advanced that he jumped straight from college to the majors without playing minor league ball.  Some teams tried to take advantage of him by bunting more often and forcing him to field and throw the ball, but he fielded his position well enough that this strategy proved ineffective.  Abbott also got to bat in his one year playing in the National League, and with one hand on the bat he managed to get 2 hits in 24 plate appearances, with 3 RBI and 3 sacrifice bunts to his credit.

Jim Abbott has won countless awards for his courage in overcoming his disability, and serves as a shining example of what people can do if they fight through adversity.  After his playing career ended, Abbott had numerous opportunities to coach baseball but chose to move away from the game.  He and his family live in California where they are heavily involved in raising money for children’s charities, and Abbott has been and remains in popular demand as a motivational speaker.