Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Glory of Their Time, Chapter 6: Jim Abbott

Let me start off by mentioning a major blogging goal I achieved today.

Not even a month into blogging and I got a mention on "The Cardboard Connection", a daily sports collectibles website for yesterday's post about an, um...interesting tidbit on the back of Sparky Lyle's 1972 Topps card. I was wondering why that post had 20 views yesterday (my next highest viewed post had two). Thanks to the "Cardboard Connection"!

Anyways, back on topic.

 2005 Topps Pristine Legends "Personal Endorsements" #PEA-JA Jim Abbott AUTO

Jim Abbott was always one of my favorite players as a kid. The fact that he only had one hand fascinated me. I didn't know it was possible for anyone to only have one hand as a child.

He's still easily one of favorites today, but for a slightly different reason. I just can't believe how much he accomplished with one hand. Just to make it to the majors without a right hand is amazing enough. To be a successful major league pitcher with just a left hand is simply beyond belief.

Plus, isn't that a neat card? I try not to feature too many game-used or autographs on my blog but I couldn't resist showing this one off.

 1988 Topps Traded #1T Jim Abbott XRC

Born without a right hand, Jim Abbott was a successful college pitcher at Michigan, to say the least. He was named the country's top amateur player in 1988 and won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics that year.

He'd be drafted by the Angels in June of 1988.

1989 Upper Deck #755 Jim Abbott RC

This '89 UD Abbott may well be the best rookie card ever made.

In 1989, Abbott became just one of the handful of players in history to jump straight to the majors without playing a game in the minor leagues.

He wouldn't disappoint. He'd go 12-12 with a 3.92 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 181 1/3 innings, finishing fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in the process.

1991 Upper Deck #554 Jim Abbott

After a mediocre 1990 season in which he went 10-14, Abbott would rebound in '91 to have the best year of his career.

He'd finish third in the AL Cy Young voting in 1991. He'd set career highs in wins (18), innings pitched (243), and strikeouts (158), and he'd post the second-lowest ERA of his career at an outstanding 2.89. That's a sure-fire Cy Young candidate right there.

(Note: I was surprised to find out while researching for this post that Abbott never made an All-Star team. Not even in his amazing 1991 season.)

Abbott's 1991 Upper Deck card, however, confuses me. The Angels didn't make the playoffs in 1989 or 1990, and this was before interleague play was established. 

So why is Abbott hitting? He must've somehow gotten on base, because the photo on the back of the card has him leading off first base. Perhaps he was brought in to lay down a bunt. I have to believe this photo was taken in a spring training game, because Abbott didn't take an at-bat in his career until 1999, according to baseball-reference.

It's a mystery to me.

1992 Topps #530 Jim Abbott

This card perfectly features Abbott's famous pitching windup. Without a right hand, he couldn't properly wear his glove, so he'd hinge it on the stump of his right arm. If a comebacker to the mound was hit, he'd switch the glove to his left hand faster than you can blink.

Jim Abbott's 1992 season perfectly illustrates how playing on a bad team can harm your stats. It also shows the relative uselessness of the wins statistic for a pitcher.

Abbott set a career high with a 2.77 ERA in 1992. So how many games did he win? 20? 15? 13?

Nope, seven. Because he was on an Angels team that would go 72-90 in '92, he won just seven games with a 2.77 ERA. And to make matters worse, he was tagged for 15 losses!

So, in one of the oddest pitching seasons in recent history, Jim Abbott went 7-15 with a 2.77 ERA in 1992.

1993 Leaf #253 Jim Abbott

In December of 1992, Abbott was dealt to the Yankees in a deal that sent J.T. Snow to California.

Abbott would top 200 innings for the final time of his career in '93, tossing 214 innings en route to an 11-14 record with a 4.37 ERA.

1994 Score #626 Jim Abbott HL

Abbott would achieve possibly the most amazing feat of his career in 1993.

He threw a no-hitter.

On September 4, the man born without a right hand tossed a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. If that's not a feel-good story, I don't know what is.

1995 Studio #137 Jim Abbott

I've always been fond of the '95 Studio set. It's just so different from everything else.

After a 1994 season in New York in which he posted a 4.55 ERA, he'd sign with the White Sox for '95.

His first tenure in Chicago would last just 17 games. After a surprisingly good start to the season in which he posted a 6-4 record and a 3.36 ERA, he'd again be traded in July...

1996 Pinnacle #228 Jim Abbott

...back to the Angels.

They'd changed their uniforms since he last played for them. He picked right up where he left off in Chicago, closing out the season with a 5-4 record and a 4.15 ERA in 13 starts in California.

1995 would be the last season Abbott would finish with an ERA below 4.00, posting a 3.70 ERA in a season split between the White Sox and Angels.

1997 Pacific "Gems of the Diamond" #GD-1 Jim Abbott

Abbott's 1996 season personified the against-all-odds determination he carried with him throughout his career.

In '96, Abbott would have one of the worst seasons of any pitcher in history, posting an awful 2-18 record with a bloated 7.48 ERA. He'd also pitch in the minors for the first time in his career, being sent down late in the year to the Angels' AAA affiliate in Vancouver.

He wouldn't pitch anywhere in 1997. He was out of baseball.

1999 Upper Deck #409 Jim Abbott

Determined to pitch in the major leagues again, Abbott signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox for the 1998 season.

He did pitch in the majors once again in '98, working his way up from single-A ball. He'd start five games for the White Sox late in the season. His record? 


His 4.55 ERA in '98 is modest considering he didn't pitch at all the year before.

He'd close out his career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, with a sub-par 2-8 season.

Abbott's 1999 season was also his first in the National League, which meant that he'd have to hit for the first time in his career. Amazingly, he got two hits in 21 at-bats and collected three RBI's.

1993 Upper Deck #30 Jim Abbott CH CL

One of the things I like best about Abbott was that he always helped out with handicapped kids in his community, always remembering his roots.

His baseball career was certainly an amazing story. 

I'm not sure we'll ever see another player quite like Jim Abbott.


Michael J Buchanan said...

Thanks for this entry, man. Jim Abbott was one of my favorite players when I was a kid due to his inspirational story.

Robert said...

Keep posting Nick, before too long you'll have 20 hits on every post. Nice work on this post here...

Nick said...

Much appreciated, thank you both for the kind comments!

Glad to see I'm not the only Abbott fan out there.

Dodgerbobble said...

Great post! Jim Abbott is one of my all-time favorites and that '89 UD card is one of my favorite cards of all-time.

Anyway, I'll echo Robert, keep up the good work. Soon you'll be getting more than twenty hits on a daily basis.

Nick said...

Much appreciated, and again, great to see another Abbott fan!

I've got a couple other guys planned for later "Glory of Their Time" posts that I think people will like. I'm just surprised I didn't think of using Abbott earlier.

Play at the Plate said...

That's a nice post about Abbott. His story is one I used to share with my students to show them they could overcome any obstacle if they wanted something bad enough.

AdamE said...

I love that 05 Pristine Legends card. That is the way companies should make inserts.