“I was always hopeful, and almost always optimistic. Every time they took the ball I wanted it back again. Every time an inning ended I wanted another. No matter how bad it got–or looked–I always figured I’d overcome more, that I’d will and pitch my way out of it. I’d always want one more hitter. So, I’d hold up my glove, expecting someone to give me a baseball.”
Former Major League Pitcher Jim Abbott, “Imperfect: An Improbable Life,” Page, 279.
For more than 20 years, Tim Mead maintained boxes of newspaper clips, letters, and photos chronicling the life and career of former major league pitcher Jim Abbott.
At first, the boxes began as individual files with “Abbott, Jim” emblazoned at the top of colored folders, places to file the paperwork and activities of a busy public relations professional and to maintain order.
However, as Mead’s career progressed, he continued to maintain the files, many years after Abbott was no longer a daily focus and within his area of responsibilities.
Mead had a lot of incentive for his diligence and devotion to Jim Abbott; he wasn’t the typical major league pitcher, nor was he a typical man.
Born without a right hand, Jim Abbott burst upon the national scene in 1988, guiding the United States to an Olympic gold medal in baseball.
Abbott mesmerized the public with his personal story and abilities displayed on the mound and field (Abbott skillfully transferred his glove from his right arm stump to his left hand after completing his delivery).
Tall (he stood over 6’3″), open-faced, and determined to succeed, Abbott skipped the minor leagues entirely, making the California Angels starting rotation in 1989 and beginning a 10-year journey as a major-leaguer.
However, as Abbott and co-author Tim Brown describe in their new memoir, “Imperfect: An Improbable Life,” life as a professional athlete wasn’t easy, especially for a one-handed individual expected to perform at the highest-level under intense scrutiny.
Abbott’s career was a bit of a roller coaster performance-wise, winning 18 games in 1991 (finishing 3rd for Cy Young consideration), followed by 15 losses the next season, on a weak-hitting Angels club that struggled to provide run support.
The pitcher also took losses personally and blamed himself when he couldn’t consistently deliver on the promise expected from him after winning the gold medal.
At the end of the 1992 season, the Angels traded Abbott to the New York Yankees and he continued to struggle in his first season with a team in the midst of a pennant race.
However, on September 4, 1993, Abbott pitched a no-hitter at the old Yankee Stadium, supported in the stands by his new wife Dana, and on the field by his teammates, featuring all stars Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, and Paul O’Neill.
Abbott’s no-hitter would be the highlight of his career and his reaction after the final out (pictured above) is featured on the front cover of his memoir and became an iconic image.
The photo also spoke volumes of how far Abbott had come from the little Flint, Michigan boy who hid his right hand in pockets or behind a baseball glove.
Many of Tim Mead’s files contained letters from parents of children who experienced similar circumstances as Abbott. Abbott and Mead diligently responded to many such letters and Abbott patiently took time to speak with these children when they visited the ballpark or met on his own time.
Abbott’s parents worked hard to instill hope for him “and then for others,” similar to those who inspire or motivate all of us regardless of activity or endeavor.
Hope, optimism, and determination can be powerful forces for good. Jim Abbott embodied those qualities and more as a man and athlete.
Brian Adkins is a Chicago-based runner, marathoner, endurance athlete, writer, editor, essayist, and independent scholar. You can contact Brian at: email@example.com