“I am telling you, the pitcher for the Angels has only one hand!”
I remember saying that sentence to a cute girl in my high school named Stephanie. I liked Stephanie. She was super pretty in a classic blonde pretty girl way. She also had a bit of a lisp that gave her a quirky side that made me even more attracted to her.
She also liked baseball. I went to a few A’s games with her. In 1989, I thought that made me smooth.
In the spring of 1989, we were both Juniors in High School. There was a lot of excitement in the San Francisco Bay Area about the prospects of the Giants and the A’s. My Red Sox were also defending AL East champs, so I was pumped as well.
At that time, I was also learning about prospects on other teams as I was devouring every issue of Baseball America. I read about the draft, prospects and who was in each minor league system.
I read about the Angels who the year before had drafted a pitcher out of the University of Michigan with the 8th pick in the 1988 draft. He had great stuff and looked like he was almost big league ready.
And he had one hand. Seeing he was a left handed pitcher, I assumed he had a left hand. I only read about him when I talked to Stephanie that spring about Abbott.
Clearly this was not a charity case or “let’s feel bad for the kid with one hand” situation. They had the 8th pick in the draft and you don’t waste a top 10 pick with sentimentality.
Robin Ventura, Tino Martinez, Charles Nagy and Alex Fernandez were all picked after him.
I read about Abbott’s great stuff in Baseball America and how his family supported him and would not use 2 hands at the dinner table when he was growing up in a sign of solidarity.
I told Stephanie about this and she looked at me like I was crazy or just misunderstood something. Maybe he INJURED his other hand, she pondered, but clearly he HAS two hands.
I described what I read. He balanced the glove on the stump on his right arm. After throwing, he would slide his hand into the glove to field his position. If he caught a grounder, he would tuck his glove under his arm and use his throwing hand to made the play.
The way I described it to her made it seem as complicated as Pee Wee’s breakfast machine in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. When you saw it in motion, it looked seamless.
Stephanie didn’t believe me. Maybe she didn’t care.
Abbott went to spring training in 1989 and made the team despite never pitching in the minors. Teams don’t have players skip the minors out of pity.
The 21 year old pitched well on a 91 win Angels team that contended for much of the year. He won 12 games, had a 3.92 ERA over 181 1/3 innings. Along the way he threw 4 complete games and 2 shutouts.
The next season, he was not as effective, posting a 4.51 ERA and leading the league in hits allowed. But he still threw 211 2/3 innings and confirmed his position as a bonafide big league starter.
In 1991, the 23 year old Abbott had his best season. He was no novelty. He was an 18 game winner with an ERA of 2.89. He threw 243 innings, striking out 158 while walking 73. He finished the season third in the Cy Young vote to Roger Clemens and Scott Erickson. For at least one season, he was one of the elites in the game.
He had a fine 1992 season even if his win loss record did not reflect it. He lowered his ERA to 2.77 and tossed 211 innings for an underachieving Angels squad.
Before the 1993 season, he was dealt to the Yankees in a deal that involved J. T. Snow. He was involved in the first winning season at the Bronx since 1988. Abbott wasn’t the ace the Yankees were hoping for, seeing his ERA go up to 4.37, but he gave the Yankees some memorable moments.
None was bigger than on September 4, 1993 against the Indians. With the Yankees clinging to their thin playoff hopes, Abbott pitched the game of his life. He walked 5 batters along the way, but he went into the 9th, 3 outs away from a no hitter.
Abbott faced Kenny Lofton and got him to ground out. Then Felix Fermin flew out to center field. With 2 outs, only Carlos Baerga stood between him and a no hitter. He grounded out to Randy Velarde who threw to Don Mattingly.
No hitter. No pity. No sympathy. He was the real deal.
His best hopes for a World Series was dashed when the 1994 strike ended the Yankees season. He pitched for a few more years with the White Sox, Angels and Brewers, even collecting a few big league hits along the way, before wrapping up his career.
It was a good career and one where the focusing on his one hand went away and the attention went to what he could do with his left arm.
As for Stephanie, she is married with kids, like I am. She went to the prom with someone else. I went to the prom with Mimi Burns. I got lost driving to her house. That’s another story.
Let’s enjoy the end of Jim Abbott’s no hitter.
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