Saturday, March 11, 2017

Top Five: Jim Abbott

Personally, I get a little uncomfortable with how often the word "hero" gets thrown around in sports culture.

It seems to me that too often the line between fan and hero is blurred to the point where some can't tell which is which. Declaring someone a "hero" is a big statement, but I'd be the first to admit that I've been guilty saying things like this without a second thought in the past.

With all the other avenues available these days, you'll probably be disappointed if sports are your only pathways for inspiration. But that's definitely not to say that athletes can't be heroes. One person I feel comfortable calling a "hero" in my life is Jim Abbott. You probably know his story by now: Abbott enjoyed ten fruitful years in the bigs despite being born without a right hand.

I own north of 100 cards of Abbott -- largely thanks to the fact that his career fell smack dab in the middle of the overproduction era -- so I certainly had a lot of decisions to make in whittling things down to a surefire Top Five this week.

#5 -- 1991 Upper Deck #554 Jim Abbott

We lead off with a perfectly odd card for my odd collection.

Jim Abbott spent nine of his ten big-league seasons in the American League and never once took an at-bat in any of those nine years. It's strange, then, that his 1991 UD issue features him at the plate in what I can only assume is a Spring Training shot (at what looks to be Dodger Stadium).

Adding to the madness is the fact that, as the back of the card tells us, Abbott somehow managed to get on base.

#4 -- 1989 Topps #573 Jim Abbott RC

This may well have been the first Jim Abbott card I ever owned.

I vividly remember it causing me much consternation as a young card collector. How can a guy in a college uniform get a Topps baseball card?, I wondered. It didn't make any sense.

Turns out Topps was right on the money here since, in 1989, Abbott became one of a small number of players to jump directly to the big leagues without playing a single minor league game.

#3 -- 1994 Score #626 Jim Abbott HL

In perhaps the crowning moment of his career, Jim Abbott pitched a no-hitter against the Indians on September 4th, 1993.

This magnificent highlight card documents the occasion with a great shot of Abbott tipping his cap to the Yankee faithful after the historic event.

#2 -- 1999 Upper Deck #409 Jim Abbott

This could also have been the first Jim Abbott card I ever owned (my memory's a little fuzzy when it comes to my early collecting years).

Abbott's final season came with the Brewers -- his first National League team -- in 1999. The move to the NL, of course, meant that Abbott had to step into the batter's box for the first time in his career, an unorthodox sight which is documented on his sunset card from Upper Deck.

Again, my young collecting self had a question about a Jim Abbott card: How can a guy with one hand swing a bat?

For the record, Abbott collected two hits in 21 at-bats as a Brewer -- including a two-run single I could watch on repeat for the rest of my life.

#1 -- 1989 Upper Deck #755 Jim Abbott RC

I've gone on record as saying that this is the greatest rookie card ever made, and I stand by that statement.

Upper Deck must have sensed that Abbott was something special early on since they rewarded him with this beautiful horizontal, multiple-exposure shot. And yes, I repeat, this is a rookie card. Guys didn't usually get the multiple-exposure treatment until they were established superstars -- at least back when card companies still did the multiple-exposure thing.

I've been a fan of many players throughout my baseball lifetime, but only a small fraction of them have become heroes.

In the end, I feel comfortable saying that Jim Abbott is, without any doubt, a hero.


gcrl said...

my favorite is the '91 ud card - not a lot of cards that showcase the (used to be) annual freeway series between the dodgers and angels.

Hackenbush said...

Awesome card at #1. That announcer was great in the clip, "Jose Hernanez has almost no range whatsoever at shortstop." Way to negate Abbott's great hit. "That's a play that Jose Valentin would make in his sleep!"

Adam Kaningher said...

Fun Fact: Both of Abbott's two career hits were against Jon Lieber.

Fred Pike said...

A great choice as a "Hero". I always liked the 91 UD card. Thanks for the interesting post.

Rob said...

I moved to Michigan right as that 1989 card came out - it was the first time I really became aware of college sports because all the kids in my junior high wore U of M or MSU gear all the time.

Fuji said...

Damn that 1989 UD card is sweet. I've never sat down to appreciate as much as I have today. Great selection for #1.

Aus said...

I was at at a Dodgers-Angels pre-season exhibition game at Dodger Stadium when Abbott was pitching for the Angels. Before his at-bat, you could almost feel everyone's collective curiosity bubbling to the surface: how would Jim bat? Turns out he swung it with one arm like a club. I forget who was pitching for the Dodgers but Abbott darn near got a bloop single. It took an amazing running catch from the centerfielder to keep it from being a hit.