Overcoming Odds: The Jim Abbott Story
by Matthew Orso
September 4th 1993 brought Yankee fans a lot of worry before their scheduled game against the Cleveland Indians. In his previous start against the Indians just six days ago, Abbott only lasted three innings and gave up over five runs. The Yankees were in the midst of a playoff push in the AL East. They needed every win that they could muster up. Abbott also needed to put together a good performance to keep his career going. He was a former 18 game winner, yet after that season, his career just was never the same. He was looking for redemption in this start, just has any normal pitcher would. However, Jim Abbott wasn’t any ordinary pitcher. He was a one handed pitcher.
Born on September 19th 1967, Jim Abbott was an eager young athlete. Despite his disability, Abbott never let it get in the way of his performance on the field. He trained himself to pitch with his one hand and switch his glove so he was able to field like any other fielder. Jim pitched in the Olympics in 1988 for the United States and became a drafted pitcher out of college at the University of Michigan. His skills were evident because he reached the Major Leagues one year after being drafted.
In his rookie season, Abbott was able to give the Angels 12 wins and pitched to an ERA of under 3.95. He finished in the top five for rookie of the year voting. 1991 also proved to be a terrific year for Abbott, posting 18 wins and giving the Angels an ERA under 2.99. Abbott was proving himself on the big league level and that was what mattered to him. After spending four years with the Angels, in 1993 Jim Abbott headed to the New York Yankees where his biggest surprise waited ahead of him.
In 1993 Jim Abbott was trying to help the Yankees compete in the AL East. They were competing against the Toronto Blue Jays to see who would advance to the playoffs as AL East champions. On September 4th 1993, Jim Abbott was to make a start against the Cleveland Indians. In his previous start against Cleveland, Abbott allowed over five earned runs in just three innings. There wasn’t much hope for Yankee fans on that Bronx afternoon, especially when Abbott opened the game by walking Kenny Lofton to lead off the game. However a double play quickly erased that and gave Jim some confidence that would last him the rest of the game.
The Cleveland Indians had one of the toughest lineups in baseball. Leading off for the Indians was Kenny Lofton, one of the top base stealers in the game. In the middle of the lineup you had a 50 homerun hitter in Albert Belle. He was considered one of the best power hitters the game had to offer. There were also young stars in the lineup ready to make an impact. Their names were Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
Jim Abbott was keeping the Indians off balance during the game. Despite allowing five walks throughout the course of the game, the Indians couldn’t make solid contact off him. One batter after another would continue to get out. Once the sixth inning rolled around, fans were beginning to wonder to themselves. They were thinking could it really happen? Could Jim Abbott throw a no hitter?
When the top of the ninth rolled around, fans were standing up in their seats cheering for their Yankees and more importantly cheering for the man who had to overcome a lot of difficultly in his life to get to this point. Kenny Lofton led off the inning with a bunt attempt which went foul. He was given a rouse of boos by the Yankee fans because they didn’t want history to end on a bunt single. Kenny Lofton would be retired however and Abbott also retired the next batter Felix Fermin as well. All that stood between Jim Abbott and baseball history was Carlos Baerga. Baerga, a good hitter in his own right was not about to let Abbott get the best of him. He was determined to give a good at bat. The first pitch from Jim Abbott was a fastball on the outside corner for strike one. The next pitch was another fastball and Baerga made contact. He hit a ground ball to the shortstop Randy Velarde who then threw to the first basemen Don Mattingly. Baerga was out and Jim Abbott had become a part of baseball history. He became the first Yankee to throw a no hitter since Dave Righetti in 1983.
Knowing that he just accomplished history, Abbott was greeted by a mob of teammates. This was one of the highlights of Jim Abbott’s career and no one could take that away from him. Despite the no hitter, Jim Abbott and the Yankees would not make the playoffs in 1993 or in 1994 due to a strike shortened season. Abbott would travel around to a couple more American League teams including a reunion with the California Angels. In 1999 he pitched his final season in Major League Baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers. This was significant to his career because he would have to bat for the first time in his big league career. Abbott would pick up two hits that season in twenty one at bats. Despite picking up some major league hits, his pitching skills were eroding. He officially announced his retirement after the 1999 season.
Jim Abbott finished his career with 87 wins and an ERA of 4.25. It wasn’t a hall of fame career; the no hit man from Michigan fulfilled his dreams by pitching in the Major Leagues. Today Jim Abbott is a motivational speaker, teaching others that even if you have a disability; you can still overcome it to achieve your dreams. This is a message that we can all listen to and Jim Abbott is living prove that it doesn’t matter how bad a situation is in life. As long as you believe in yourself and in others, you can always come through.