07/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
He was a star on the baseball diamond in high school, so good he was drafted out of high school in 1986. In 1987, he beat out former NBA All-Star David Robinson for the Sullivan Award, which recognizes the best amateur athlete in the country. That year he also won the Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur baseball player in the nation, beating out Ken Griffey Jr. and Robin Ventura. He was the Big Ten Conference player of the year in 1988. He also won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team that summer. He was a 6'3, 200lb left handed pitcher and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by the California Angels. Jim Abbott followed the pedigree on the field expected of blue chip athlete. But he did all of this without a right hand.
Jim Abbott was born with a deformed right arm that ended at the wrist where his hand should have been. Despite that, he excelled on the mound. Pitching with basically one arm would seem almost impossible. But Abbott made it look easy. He would place the fielding glove on the end of his right arm, throw the pitch with his left arm, then switch the glove to his left hand to field. If he had to field the ball, he would take the glove and hold it against his chest with the right arm so he could throw with his left. Think about having to do that every time you threw a pitch. Abbott did it so seamlessly that you never could tell he was missing his right hand. He also would field bunts bare handed so he could throw quickly to first base.
Abbott played in the American League in the days before interleague play. Since the designated hitter was used in the AL, Abbott didn't have to worry about batting. But he was surprisingly good at the plate in his amateur days. He batted .427 and hit 7 home runs his senior year of high school.
As inspiring as he was on the field, Abbott always gave back off the field as well. He was heavily involved in charity work and working with disabled children. He was so involved in his charity work that former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said he was too involved. Steinbrenner said after the 1993 season, one of two seasons Abbott pitched for the Yankees, that he was over involved in his charity work and it contributed to his poor results on the field. And that Abbott needed to devote 100% of his attention to playing baseball. This despite the fact that Abbott was selected for the Freedom Forums Free Spirit Award that same year for his work with disabled children. Abbott has said he met with at least one disabled child on every road series during his entire MLB career.
On the field, Abbott pitched parts of 10 major league seasons. He had 2 stints with the Angels to go with playing for the Yankees, the Chicago White Sox, and the Milwaukee Brewers. He won 87 games in his career and also threw a no hitter for the Yankees in 1993. Off the field, Abbott remains involved working with children with disabilities. He still lives in California, where he is involved with the Amigos de los Ninos, which is a group that works to help groups that aid children. He is also a motivational speaker and continues to make appearances for various charitable organizations.
One of Jim Abbott's quotes is "Find something you love, and go after it with all of your heart". He did that in baseball, and continues to do it by helping others as well.
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