Famed Major League Baseball player Jim Abbott overcame the birth defect of having only one hand to become an amazing professional pitcher and ball player. Through stories, anecdotes, jokes, some self deprecation, and even failure and pain, he shows that people can overcome perceived limitations and reach their dreams.
Abbott was born without a right hand. As a youngster, he spent hours bouncing a ball off a wall to practice fielding and throwing. Instead of looking at what he did not have, Abbott's father helped him find ways to win. Abbott was the starting quarterback on his high school football team, which went to the finals of the Michigan State championship. He showed enough promise as a pitcher to be drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays shortly after graduation, but instead went to the University of Michigan on a baseball scholarship. He had a career record of 26 wins and eight losses at the school.
As a member of Team USA in 1987, Abbott became the first American pitcher in 25 years to beat a Cuban team on Cuban soil. The team won a silver medal at the Pan-American Games and Abbott won the US Baseball Federation's Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the country. In 1987, he became the first baseball player to win the Sullivan Award as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete. In the 1988 Olympics, he was the winning pitcher in a 5-3 victory over Japan that brought the US its first gold medal in baseball.
Abbott bypassed the minor leagues and went directly from the University of Michigan to the Angels’ starting rotation in the spring of 1989. Many considered the move a publicity stunt, but after an early struggle, Abbott proved his doubters wrong by winning 12 games with a 3.92 ERA in his rookie season. While on the mound, Abbott wore a right-hander's fielder's glove over the stump at the end of his right arm. He would rapidly switch the glove to his left hand so he could handle any balls hit back to him after delivering a pitch.
In 1991, he was one of the best young left-handers in the game after winning 18 games for the Angels while posting a 2.89 ERA. He was traded to the Yankees in December 1992, and in the heat of the pennant race tossed a 4-0 no-hitter against Cleveland. The Yankees traded Abbott to the Chicago White Sox early in 1995 and he returned to the Angels by mid-season. He suddenly became ineffective in 1996, after losing 11 straight games and finishing with a 2-18 record. Abbott then retired for a season, only to rebound and try again with the White Sox in 1998.
His memoir, Imperfect: An Improbable Life, eloquently chronicles his journey handling the difficult but peculiarly propelling gift his “imperfection” proved to be.