09/15/08 12:59 PM ET
Abbott an inspiration on and off the field
Left-hander remembered for more than just no-hitter heroics
By Samantha Newman / MLB.com
It could be.
People could remember Abbott for pitching the final game of the 1988 Summer Olympics to win the gold medal for the United States. Or they might think of the outstanding performance he gave in throwing a no-hitter against the Indians five years later.
Those wins may highlight Abbott's days on the mound, but it's the fact that he got them with the use of only one hand that makes Abbott's career something to remember.
The former pitcher threw for nine seasons in the big leagues despite being born without a right hand. He learned to adapt, and perfected his own pitching technique. As he set up, he rested a left-handed glove on his right forearm. Once the ball left his fingers, he slipped the glove onto his left hand with plenty of time to field any balls that came his way.
The move became his trademark, and his accomplishments proved what could be possible.
Since he retired from baseball in 1998, Abbott's work as a motivational speaker has given him the opportunity to meet kids with similar conditions who aspire to reach the heights that Abbott did. And all of them want to show off their own versions of his style.
"They all have their own sort of techniques," Abbott said. "I love meeting the kids who are trying to figure out how to play baseball, and they start switching the glove. They show me how they do it, and I show them how I did it, and then we talk about a few different things."
Abbott never thought of himself as any sort of idol. He didn't necessarily want to be.
But his accomplishments propelled him toward that role. Abbott receives letters from people throughout the country, from adults, parents or children who suffer from similar disabilities but want to play baseball. They all look to the former pitcher as a source of inspiration.
ARI: Travis Lee | ATL: Mark Lemke
BAL: Chris Hoiles | BOS: Bill Lee
CHC: Randy Hundley | CIN: Eric Davis
CWS: Dan Pasqua | CLE: Dave Burba
COL: Curtis Leskanic | DET: Steve Sparks
FLA: Charlie Hough | HOU: Doug Drabek
KC: Mike Macfarlane | LAA: Rick Reichardt
LAD: Jim Gott | MIL: Don Sutton
MIN: Kevin Tapani | NYM: Ed Kranepool
NYY: Jim Abbott | OAK: Ben Grieve
PHI: Tommy Greene | PIT: Barry Jones
STL: B. Tewksbury | SD: C. Hernandez
SF: Brian Johnson | SEA: Henry Cotto
TB: Doug Creek | TEX: Dave Hostetler
TOR: Alex Gonzalez | WAS: W. Fryman
Abbott always writes back.
"I was so fortunate growing up," he said. "I had so many people who rooted for me, who picked me up when I didn't always feel great about myself, so I just try to pass that on."
Various corporations and schools hire Abbott to tell his story, which speaks to children and adults alike. He has also been chosen to serve as the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.
Abbott may not have asked to serve as a role model, but through years of meeting kids who fought to play baseball instead of soccer because they had heard of Jim Abbott, he's come to embrace it.
"It's a real privilege," Abbott said. "I know what it was like to be a little bit different growing up, and the camaraderie that baseball can bring about is special. Talking with the kids, those are some pretty memorable interactions."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.