Jim Abbott, then a 12-year-old boy from the small town of his birth, told a reporter in 1979 that he hoped to play Major League Baseball. The dream is shared by many 12-year-olds, but the similarities stop there.
Abbott's dream came true. Abbott was different from the other boys. He was born with no right hand.
Abbott, a native of Flint in Michigan, displayed his baseball skills as early as preteen. He excelled in high school as a football quarterback and pitcher.
In his autobiography "Imperfect : An Improbable life", he writes, "I played sports as that was what the boys in Flint did."
Abbott was able to overcome his birth defect in his early 20s. He helped his University of Michigan team win two Big Ten Conference Championships. He won the James E. Sullivan Award for America's best amateur athlete while in college. He won the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics with the U.S. Baseball team.
The best is yet to come
Get Accolades like Jim Abbott
Abbott played in the Major Leagues for 10 seasons (1989-1999). He threw a no-hitter in 1993 for the New York Yankees.
Investor's Business Daily quoted Abbott, 55. "Execution, performance, and trust are all about self-trust. That game is a great example of the importance."
Abbott's previous outing against the Cleveland Indians, which he faced again, lasted less that four innings. He was already a seasoned pitcher, having pitched for more than four years. The overall results of his 1991 season were not good, despite the fact that he had won 18 games in the year and was third for the Cy Young Award.
He said, "It was pivotal for me." "I was at a low, frustrated, and struggling before the game. I needed faith and conviction to get myself out of that."
Jim Abbott innovates his way to success
In looking back on his career Abbott attributes his success to trust. He trusted his teammates and coaches, as well as his scouting report on each batter.
Most importantly, he trusted his catcher. This relationship was especially important during his no-hitter.
Abbott stated, "I totally trusted Matt Nokes (catcher)." His strategy, focus, intentions, and positivity. He told the team not to get distracted by (sluggers Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez) before the game. Trust your best pitch. "
Abbott, unlike some athletes who are born with natural talent, worked hard to improve his skills. Abbott made the high school baseball squad as a freshmen, but he did not get a single hit during that season.
He wrote: "The early teenage years were probably my most difficult when it came to accepting my disability."
Abbott, like many trailblazers before him, learned how to innovate. He practiced quickly transferring the glove from his right hand to his left after he threw the ball. He would use his glove to catch balls and then spin it toward his chest to free his left arm to throw the runner out.
He says it took him "a million attempts and almost as many clumsy fails" before he was able to play with just one hand. He spent hours throwing the baseball at a wall to learn how to catch it.
Jim Abbott inspires kids with disabilities
Abbott was fortunate to have not encountered many bullies when he was a child. His classmates were mostly curious about his missing arm. He was taunted and grew accustomed to rude questions and awkward glances.
Tim Brown, coauthor of "Imperfect," stated that "Jim's spirit, his determination, and his need to succeed are a result of the way he was brought up." "His parents treated him like any other child. They didn't pamper him. He was challenged to succeed in the real world."
Brown, a reporter, met Abbott in 1989, during Abbott's rookie season with the California Angels. Abbott was selected by the Angels in the first round 1988 draft. The following season, he made his debut in the majors.
Brown, like many baseball writers admired Abbott's humility and resilience. Brown was astonished by Abbott's generosity and willingness to help other children with disabilities.
In every stadium, parents and their children would form a long line. Like Abbott, the children were also born differently.
Brown said, "He would meet all of these kids before the match." "My eyes were always on the parents, who wanted to make sure their children would feel part of society and not isolated."
He started a conversation with the children, asking them, "Does anyone here play baseball?" Show me how you use your glove."
Brown said, "He was a sweet and kind man." He'd be in the clubhouse playing cards. Tim Mead (Angels PR executive) would then signal Jim to go out to greet families.
Abbott was touched by the distance that these parents traveled to meet him. He took the time to talk with them and encourage their children.
Abbott wrote: "They were beautiful and shy, loud and funny and, like me in some ways, imperfectly constructed." "And like me, their parents were nearby. Parents who would not believe that an accident of nature or circumstance was a death sentence and that spirits within these tiny bodies are greater than the sum of their hands and foot."
Don Mattingly: Leadership Lessons from Don Mattingly
Abbott gives credit to his teammates and coaches for demonstrating effective leadership. He learned from Don Mattingly, the star first baseman of the Yankees during his two-year tenure with them.
Abbott said, "Don crossed boundaries." "A clubhouse in the major league can be a bit fractured, with different cultures and languages. He was able, through empathy, to bridge the gaps so that we could pursue a common goal and mission.
Abbott's summer in 1988 with the U.S. Olympic team taught him a lot about leadership. The team formed a strong bond because they spent so much time preparing for the games in Seoul.
Abbott stated that "Mark Marquess (head coach) and Skip Bertman (assistant) were both tremendous leaders." They gave us the room that 21-year olds need, and let us have fun. It was clear why we were building. "The mission was always clear and important.
The U.S. squad was full of college standouts. The coaching staff stressed that players must put aside their roles to serve the greater good.
Abbott stated that "We had All-American starters ask to be relievers." "Everything was done to win the game."
Abbott's affable personality was well-known. Tony Kubek said, after Abbott retired his last batter from the booth while broadcasting the no hitter, "One for the most wonderful moments in any uniform of a major sportsman as sweet as there is."
Abbott was also a hot-tempered pitcher. He would yell at his glove whenever he made an unlucky pitch.
He said that a chip in your shoulder could be very useful. It's a thin line between anger and negative self-talk, or hurting other people when you can't be present.
Jim Abbott's Keys
He persevered despite being born without a left hand and was able to pitch at a high level.