A Chat with Jim Abbott

Abbott while pitching for the Calgary Cannons in 1998 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Abbott while pitching for the Calgary Cannons in 1998 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The word “perseverance” is thrown around a lot in the world of sports.  Any time an athlete plays through an injury or attains a height they have previously failed to achieve, we laud them for their ability to endure–and rightfully so; but few have had to overcome more than Jim Abbott.  In a sport that requires incredible dexterity and hand-eye-coordination, Abbott was able to succeed at the highest level despite being born without a right hand.

Abbott was born in Flint, Michigan and went on to attend Flint Central High School where he was a standout pitcher and quarterback for the Indians.  He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 36th round of the ’85 MLB Draft, but decided to forgo his entry into professional baseball in order to attend the University of Michigan.  During his three years with the maize and blue he was a 2-time All-American, won the 1987 Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur baseball player in the nation, and in 1988 was both the Big Ten Player of the Year in baseball and the Big Ten Athlete of the Year. His name is peppered through the Wolverine career record book: wins (5th), ERA (6th), complete games (8th), and strikeouts (13th).

In 1988 Abbott took the mound in the gold medal game of the Summer Olympics, helping the United States earn the victory over Japan.  He was selected 8th overall in the ’88 MLB Draft by the Angels and pitched for California over the next four seasons, finishing 3rd in the 1991 Cy Young vote.

Abbott came to the Yankees in 1993 where he quickly became a fan favorite.  On September 4, 1993 he turned in the most memorable performance of his career, no-hitting the Cleveland Indians in a 4-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.  In 1994 his 9 wins were tied for second-highest on the team as the Yanks built a 6.5 game AL East lead before the strike cut the season short in August.  Though he only wore the pinstripes for two seasons, he is still fondly remembered in New York for his courage and humility as well as his inspiring gem against Cleveland.

Since retiring from the game in 1999, Abbott has received a number of honors and has continued to use his story to inspire and encourage others.  In 2004 he was enshrined in the University of Michigan Hall of Honor and in 2007 he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.  In 2009 his #31 was retired by the University of Michigan.  In 2012 his autobiography Imperfect was published and he continues to travel the country as a motivational speaker.

Jim was kind enough to briefly answer a few of my questions amid his busy life as a father, husband, and speaker.

*     *     *     *     *

Carlos Baerga grounds out on September 4, 1993. What’s the first thing that goes through your head?

It’s hard to describe my feelings. There was just this huge rush of adrenaline along with a disbelief that this could actually be happening!  It felt like an electrical current was going through my body.

What was your favorite part about your time in New York?

Playing in Yankee Stadium in the pinstripes with a sold-out crowd.

What teammate were you closest with during your time in New York?

Scott Kamieniecki and Jimmy Key.  Although I loved many of the great characters on those teams.  [Don] Mattingly, [Paul] O’Neill, [Mike] Stanley, [Wade] Boggs, [Mike] Gallego.  It was a really fun group of guys.

What did it feel like to have the strike end the ’94 season when you had helped the Yanks claim 1st place in the AL East?

I was really bummed.  That team was very good.  I think we would have made the playoffs and maybe started the Yankee run one year earlier.

What have you been doing since retiring in ’99?

I have been doing motivational speaking and raising a family in California.  I released a memoir last year called Imperfect.  The structure of the book revolves around the 9 innings of the no hitter in ’93.

What does it mean to you to be able to share your story and inspire others?

I have come to appreciate the connection we all feel to the game.  The fact that I played a little differently helps me to tell the story a bit differently but in the end it is still a baseball story.  I cherish my connections with the game.

*     *     *     *     *
Follow Jim on Twitter @jabbottum31.
Follow Dan on Twitter @161st_and_River.
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Posted on January 27, 2013, in Interviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Absolutely outstanding interview!

    • Thanks, Michael!
      I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I tried to think outside the box a little bit since he has probably been asked the same questions a thousand times. He’s a class act.

  2. Nice job Dan. Was an amazing pitcher to watch live at the stadium. I remember seeing him pitch a bunch at the old stadium.

  3. Michael P…what brings you here?
    Are you joining the world of (here we go)…..optimism? Or, are the Yankees
    in last place already?

    • Patrick I despise the school of thought that being a realist(and being RIGHT!!! as I and others who have said like I have that ever since the 2009 season that Cashman has done nothing but destroy the team with bad after bad move) means you aren’t a fan.
      Let me explain something to you really clear chief. When I write I strive to maintain the ultimate unbiased and objective opinions, I feel that’s important if you are going to have any credibility.
      But once the games start? Well, once the games start I sit there and scream at the television like I’ve done during every Yankee game since I was about 4 years old.
      I hope we win every game, even though I know that’s not possible.
      Being a fan is like being a child, hoping for all good things and wishing every dream to come true.
      If you want to get on me because I was RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT(I can and will show you my work from another site in which I have gone insane over every move Cashman has made since the end of the 2009 season proclaiming it would lead the Yankees to doom) and call them like I see them than be my guest.
      I don’t WANT to be right about Teixeira being a BUM with an awful contract. I don’t WANT to be right about the Pineda trade. I don’t WANT to be right about the Ichiro resigning being a joke and tragic at the same time.
      I must call them as I see them, and it seems to me that people like YOU only get mad at people like ME when we appear to be right(and have been right all along)about things that are perceived as negative about the Yankees.
      So to put this simply, here goes: When I write about something I think is true(but negative) about the Yankees, I do so with regret and anger, but I do so because I feel that to not call them like I see them would make me a moronic “homer” or “shill” and the world has far too many of those hiding behind the mask of “journalism”.
      NOONE will be happier than I am when things are going right in Yankeeland.
      You have the right to be optimistic at all times Patrick, but keep in mind that I have the right to be REALISTIC and take no joy in anything negative about the Yankees, who have meant the world to me since I was old enough to stand up.

      • Michael P….is always right. All others pipe down. I get it.
        Number one, my name is patrick. Not chief.
        Number two, my harmless observation, is you looking at everything as the glass
        half empty. Strikes me odd also, that every comment is negative. So what?
        I get critiqued all the time. Sometimes rotten stuff. They’ll get over it.
        Number three, if you put up a article/comment, you are open to scrutiny.
        Number four, I get it. Your words…”because I was RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT(I can and will show you my work from another site” …….no more, I get it.

      • Michael, your view is totally different than mine, as an ex player and coach I as most players never liked the media, as a coach I never really liked the fans. They had a warped view of what really was going on with my team. They all had there agendas, which really had nothing to do with what the team was trying to do. Hindsight is always 20/20.

        • doug, you done, done good again…

          As Coach and player myself, I never heard any thing the fans ever said, even when I played. It was like a glass wall around the field! As far as the reporters in High school and College went, they learned quickly not to come near me after a game. I am and have always been, the worlds worst loser!

          And you are right, most fans (even on this and other blogs) have their player and no one can possible be better than he. And reporters want the dirt not the truth, beside, they are dumb as hell.

      • Michael P…
        How’s it going young fellow? Sounds as though you are being told the truth to me.
        I understand your frustration with some of the trades that have been made over the last 3+ years but, one must give trades a chance to work themselves out. The trade most yell about the most is the last one…; Monty and another pitcher for two of their Pitchers, right? Until they play a game for us we will not know who came out ahead. I guess, you may want to cut back on always saying you have been right.

        No one is right all the time, I wish I could say differently but, facts are facts.
        You have been very outspoken and there is nothing wrong with that. Being a defender of some of the players on this team…if they deserve it…is what I try to do. You go about things by attacking them, so what, you have your way, I have mine.
        Others have their way…so be it…just a different point of view that’s all.

        Bottom line is, go for it if you think you are right…nothing wrong with being right but, an impossibility to be right all the time!
        Good comments and storys by the way. :)

  4. Dan…
    Great job, most of us can remember that game, it was a big surprise to many fans, and I must say, me too!

    I even remember watching Don Larsons WS game on a little TV back a few years ago.

  5. Chuck Knoblach…later admitted years later, that he was really trying to drill
    the communist, Keith Olberman, that afternoon.

  6. Great interview! Abbott was one of my favorite players growing up. I had so much fun collecting his baseball cards (and Starting Lineup figures..remember those?). I just finished reading his book not too long ago, too.
    -Mike
    http://minoringinbaseball.com/

    • Thanks for the comment, Mike. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. Even though he spent just 2 seasons in the Bronx, he remains such a fan favorite. I’m so glad you reminded me about Starting Lineup figures. Those things were great!

  7. Good Job Dan! Abbott brings back a lot of memories.

    I remember being totally psyched when Stick traded for him. How often can you get a stud LHP who is 25 yrs old?!? Yanks gave up a couple of their best prospects in JT Snow and Russ Springer but they were getting a guy who seemed like he was going to be a mainstay for the net 10 years. Abbott’s Yankee career was a little disappointing but he was a great guy and an amazing athlete. I saw him interviewed by Michael Kay recently and he showed how he shifted the glove back and forth. One of the truly amazing things in sports which will likely never be seen again.

    It’s a shame the 94 strike wiped out the playoffs because the Yanks were having a great year. O’Neill, Boggs and Stanley were killing it and Jimmy Key was dealing.

    Abbott pitched in the heart of the offensive/steroid boom in baseball and American Lg pitchers had it tough. Still, I wonder why Abbott had his career end at such an early age. Think I remember he had a nasty Slider early on but stopped throwing it as much because of arm issues. Anyone remember?

  8. Thanks, Fishjam. It is beyond comprehension what he was able to do, truly one of the most unique players in baseball history.

  9. The fact that you interviewed the Yankee that I look up to the most makes this one of the best articles that I’ve read. You are the perfect fit for the blog, Dan. You really are. :)

  10. From…Giancarlo Stanton, to Jim Thome, to Juan Rivera.
    Sorry, but we are in trouble. Juan Rivera, strikes fear in Buck Showalter,
    in the ninth inning?

  11. Twasp…if Mantle drank light beer, would he have played another ten years?
    Even dead, he may be better than our current cast of characters.

  12. The Tent Show, is done tonight. Annoyed, at one author, who is always always right.
    Some are authors, the rest of us, are run of the mill commenters?
    I think not. Hemingway, was an author.

    • Patrick, if you believe the Melky for Javier(the sequel), Ajax, Coke, and Kennedy for Granderson, and Montero for the 300 pound Shrek trades didn’t weaken this team incredibly since the 2009 season, then you are the only one I know who believes that.
      These were insane trades. Insane when they made and in hindsight even more insane.
      Also since then Joba and Hughes were mismanaged, Burnett foolishly given away for nothing, and Freddy Garcia signed for a joke of a contract last year.
      Now? How in the world could Cashman resign an ancient Ichiro to that kind of contract?

      YOu may be content with “playoff appearances” but a team with a 200 million plus payroll is never supposed to miss the playoffs in this day and age with 5 teams going from both leagues.
      Cashman inherited Stick’s team in the late 90′s.
      Since 2001 the Yankees have exactly one title, ONE, which is one fewer than the Cards, Giants, and Red Sox.
      One title despite over TWO BILLION dollars spent in payroll in this time period.
      Cashman has made bad move after bad move and now can make no moves.
      Hip hip HOORAY!!

  13. Patrick if mickey drank milk and didn’t take greenies he would have been the greatest till Jeter.

  14. MICHAEL PINEDA…..I lifted this from RAB today.

    Cashman: Pineda will throw off a half-mound tomorrow
    By Mike Axisa

    ” Brian Cashman confirmed that Michael Pineda will throw off a half-mound tomorrow for the first time since having shoulder surgery in early-May. Pineda, who turned 24 a little more than a week ago, has been throwing off flat ground since at least September. Moving up at aIl, lifted this from half-mound isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a big step in his rehab from a very serious injury. Good news.”
    Good news, is good.

    • How good is it Patrick? The guy stunk in the 2nd half of the 2011 season with the Mariners(and his first half numbers aided by pitching in that monstrous cavern)and only ever had two pitches when he was healthy.
      Again, its not only that most don’t make it back off the surgery that he had, it’s that he was never any good in the first place and that he showed how seriously he took being a Yankee by showing up to camp weighing 300 pounds last year.
      When I see an in shape, effective Michael Pineda pitching and winning games for the Yankees then we can begin to consider reevaluating the trade. Until that happens? We got nothing from him last year and could sorely use Montero’s bat this year and he would make a much better full time catching option than anyone we have now.
      Pineda hasn’t pitched since September of 2011 in a real game, not at all since April, and will need to pitch strictly in the minors this year when he is ready to come back and pitch.
      So “maybe” he could impact the team in 2014. You can excuse me for being more into, you know, the 2013 season since we haven’t even started that yet.

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