With baseball season upon us, I have brought back for this week only a very popular 2004 column. Here goes:
In high school, I pitched a baseball using my right hand and caught with my left. But pitching legend Jim Abbott not only threw and caught using only his left hand, he also was an 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist, a pitcher for the Yankees, Angels, White Sox, and Brewers, and the author of a 1993 no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.
In a telephone interview, Abbott said, “Usually only children ask (about my missing right hand). I tell them I was born this way and try to explain how everybody is born differently. It’s something that has been part of my life as long as I can remember. So I take it as being normal now. There are times when it would be nice not to feel different.”
Early in life, Abbott received an incredible amount of support, he said, such as having many opportunities to pitch little league baseball. While maturing as an All-American pitcher at the University of Michigan and later the Olympic Games, he used people’s doubts about his abilities as a personal incentive to reach the major leagues.
Until having arm trouble, he perhaps was on track to being inducted into the Hall of Fame. With the Angels in 1991, Abbott finished 18-11 with a 2.89 earned run average and placed third in Cy Young Award voting. He chalked up 87 victories in a shortened career. Of all his accomplishments, his two hits and three runs batted in with the 1999 Brewers while swinging one-handed have to rank high on any list.
Does he prefer being remembered as a great one-handed pitcher or as a great pitcher? He said, “I guess being called ‘great’ at anything is a good thing. My goal as a baseball player was to be the best I could be and that is how I’d like to be remembered. Being constantly put into a certain category can be frustrating. However I am very proud to serve as a [role model] to others that they can rise above people’s categorizations and expectations.”
Today in 2011, Jim Abbott still travels the nation as a motivational speaker. In doing it, he said (in 2004) that he enjoyed meeting people and sharing that “no matter our goals, we all face many of the same challenges and obstacles.”