James Anthony Abbott was born on September 19, 1967. Abbott grew up in Michigan and like many young children, had dreams of playing professional sports. Unlike many young children, however, Jim Abbott was born without his right hand. Being born with such a handicap would keep many people from their dreams but it never deterred Abbott. The term “handicapped” didn’t apply to him.
Abbott's hard work and determination drove him to the heights of the sports world. He was a standout pitcher and quarterback in high school and went on to play baseball at the University of Michigan, where he lead the baseball team to two Big Ten Championships. In 1987, he became the first baseball player to win the James E. Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete in the United States. Abbott was an Olympian and was the eighth overall pick in the 1988 MLB Draft. Of all of those incredible accomplishments, he is most remembered for his no hitter he threw for the New York Yankees in September of 1993 against the Cleveland Indians.
Abbott enjoyed a 10 year career in MLB playing for the Angels, Yankees, White Sox and Brewers. He shared his amazing and inspirational journey with NYY Sports Talk recently and we are excited to share it with you.
It's time to get to know Jim Abbott.
Our Interview with Jim Abbott...
NYY Sports Talk: What was your favorite baseball team growing up and who were some of your favorite players?
Jim Abbott: My favorite team growing up was the Detroit Tigers. Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris were among my favorites. Nolan Ryan was also a huge favorite for me.
NYYST: You were an exceptional quarterback in high school, along with being a great pitcher. Which sport was your first love?
Abbott: I was very lucky to be on a very good football team in high school, surrounded by great talent at all of our skilled positions. Despite having a great time playing football, there’s nothing like Friday night lights…. baseball was always my number one love.
NYYST: How did you come up with the natural motion of throwing and quickly getting your glove back on your throwing hand to field your position? Was this something you mastered at an early age or something that constantly evolved as you matured as a pitcher?
Abbott: Switching the glove on and off of my left hand was a process that evolved over the years. From trying to create the switch with my dad in the front yard, to then constantly throwing a ball against a brick wall trying to get the glove back on quickly, to working on my defense in the Anaheim outfield with our great Angel coach Jimmie Reese, it was a process that I was always trying to hone and perfect.
NYYST: You had success as a high school pitcher and eventually attended the University of Michigan to play baseball. You had accomplished so much at such a young age, but did you ever think there’d be a day that you’d step on the mound as a Major League pitcher?
Abbott: I always dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues but my journey was always marked by trying to make the next team at the next level. The question always seemed to be whether I could play at the next level, from little league, to high school to college to the USA team and ultimately to professional ball. It wasn’t until I played with some of the very best amateur players in the United States on the Olympic Team that I felt like I could play at the MLB level.
NYYST: Tell us about the day you were drafted. Who were you with? What were some of the first thoughts that entered your mind?
Abbott: I was with my family the day I was drafted by the Angels. We received a phone call from the team and immediately the phone started ringing off the wall with calls from media outlets from around the country. It was an incredible day and I will be forever thankful for the leap of faith the Angels made that day.
NYYST: Which moment in your life do you feel validated you the most, on a personal level? Which moment would you take back to anyone who told you that you couldn't accomplish your dreams and use it to prove them wrong?
Abbott: The two proudest moments of my baseball career were the Olympic Gold Medal game and pitching a no hitter for the Yankees. Representing my country and all of the best amateur players was an incredible honor and seems about as improbable an accomplishment that you can imagine. That is a nice example of what is possible in this world I think.
NYYST: Outside of the no-hitter, what is your most memorable moment/game as a MLB pitcher?
Abbott: My first big league win vs the Orioles was a moment that I was always proud of. Called my Mom and Dad that night, pretty special.
NYYST: Take us through the later innings of a no hitter. When does it become tangible? Are you able to stay calm and collected on the mound?
Abbott: The No Hitter is a combination of so many cherished memories. The countdown of outs as the game moved to the later innings, the excitement of the fans in Yankee stadium, the fun with my teammates and the tension and anxiousness as that 27th out creeped closer. Matt Nokes was my catcher that day and his enthusiasm was incredibly helpful to me to help stay calm but also aggressive with our approach. Those last few innings were a unique coming together of building excitement and sense of purpose. I wish everyone had a chance to feel how exciting that afternoon felt.
NYYST: You were a member of the 1994 New York Yankees and they were seemingly on their way to breaking their playoff drought before the Player’s Strike ended the season. Was there ever a sense of disappointment that there was a missed opportunity in 1994? That maybe that team could’ve went all the way if the season had reached its conclusion?
Abbott: 1994 carries a great sense of lost opportunity. Very sad because I think that was the best MLB team I had ever played on. When the strike kicked in, I don’t think any one of us thought the whole season would be lost.
NYYST: In 1996 you had the toughest year of your career, ending with a 2-18 record and a 7.48 ERA, resulting in being released by the Angels before the 1997 season. Before making a comeback in 1998 and 1999, after taking an entire year off, were you ever at peace with the 1997 season being your last? Take us through that journey and what had brought you back to the game for 2 more years.
Abbott: 1996 was terribly disappointing to me professionally. Going 2-18 was a downward spiral that I just couldn’t drag myself out of. I felt as though I had let down a lot of people in the Angel Organization which made the on field results all the more painful. It may sound cliché, but somehow that terrible season forced me to confront how I viewed myself and how closely that tied into how well I did on the baseball field. I had many, many difficult discussions and moments of self-introspection. My attempt at a comeback was made in the hopes of trying to resurrect my career without carrying around the added weight of those old ways of looking at life. I was trying to work out how my self-perceptions and those of others were influencing how I went about life and playing baseball in the public eye. These are questions I think many of us struggle with, and ultimately, I feel it was an important positive time in my life. Although I had a sense that my playing days were coming to an end, going back to try again gave me a chance to take one long last look around at a life in the game that I loved very much.
NYYST: After baseball you've gone on to become a Guest Pitching Instructor for the Angels, as well as becoming a motivational speaker. If you can, sum up in just a few sentences what your motivational message is to those you speak to.
Abbott: Looking back on my playing days I have a great appreciation for the improbable nature of my journey. From growing up with one hand in Flint, Michigan, to pitching a no hitter in Yankee Stadium is an awfully long way to go. My purpose in my post baseball life has been to try to share the idea of just how much is possible in this world.
NYYST: This last question is one we ask all of our guests we interview for this column. NYY Sports Talk requested to feature you for this piece because we view you as someone who has truly been an influential figure in Yankees' history. In your opinion, what impact have you made on your fans, on Yankee fans, for all of us to consider "Jim Abbott" an influential name in Yankees’ history?
Abbott: I am so grateful for my time in New York with the Yankees. I don’t know that my short time there was in any way influential but I know it made a huge impact on my life and my experience in MLB. Pitching a no hitter in Yankee Stadium has given me a small but cherished connection with the great Yankee organization, its’ fans and the city of New York.
NYY Sports Talk would like to thank Jim Abbott for taking the time out of his busy schedule to work with us on this piece. What he was able to accomplish in his professional and personal life is something that should inspire us all.
Mr. Abbott, we wish you nothing but health and happiness as you continue to inspire and encourage everyone you speak to. Thank you for everything you've given to the team and the sport we all love.
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