Jim Abbott

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Note: This page is for 1990s major league pitcher Jim Abbott; for the minor league player of the same name, click here


James Anthony Abbott

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Biographical Information[edit]

"Our handicaps are only problems in the eyes of others." - Jim Abbott in a letter to a young fan who was partially paralyzed at five-years-old by a mountain lion attack.

Despite being born with no right hand, pitcher Jim Abbott went on to a successful big league career, winning 87 games in a decade in the majors.

Amateur Career[edit]

In high school, Abbott was the starting quarterback on his school's football team. After graduation, he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the draft but instead chose to attend the University of Michigan. During his time there, he won the 1987 Golden Spikes Award and the 1987 Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete, the only baseball player ever to be so honored.

He also led the U.S. in several major international competitions. He carried the flag in the opening ceremonies for the 1987 Pan American Games and then went on to strike out 15 in 13 innings while allowing 6 hits and no earned runs. He won two games for the Americans, who finished second to Cuba.

In the 1988 Baseball World Cup, Abbott was named one of two All-Star pitchers, along with Takehiro Ishii. He was 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA in the tournament and was beating the Cuban national team 3-1 in the finale when a controversial call went against him in the bottom of the 9th to put a runner on. He then allowed a game-tying home run to Lourdes Gourriel Sr. before being replaced by Andy Benes.

That summer, Abbott was also a member of the Olympic team. He once again was chosen to carry the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies, and on the field, he led the squad to a gold medal. He was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA, 7th-best in the Seoul Games behind James Figueroa, Ben McDonald, Tetsuya Shiozaki, Jesús Feliciano, Parris Mitchell and Ishii.

Straight to the Majors[edit]

After finishing his college career, Abbott was signed by the California Angels and scout George Bradley as the eighth overall pick in the 1988 amateur draft. The Angels brought him straight to the majors at the beginning of the 1989 season without any minor league seasoning. His first game at Anaheim Stadium was much anticipated; almost 47,000 fans showed up to the Big A to watch the young phenom's Major League debut. (Abbott's debut out-drew opening night by 13,582, and the Angels averaged 21.687.8 the other 10 games of that homestand.) His first pitch in the big leagues to Mariners leadoff hitter Harold Reynolds was a called strike which elicited roaring cheers from the home crowd. Reynolds singled through the hole between first and second base, #2 hitter Henry Cotto singled over the second baseman's head, which sent Reynolds to third. Abbott uncorked a wild pitch during the next at bat to Alvin Davis, on which Cotto took second base. RBI groundouts by Davis and cleanup hitter Darnell Coles followed, and Abbott was quickly in arrears 2-0. But the bases were empty with two outs. He settled down after that, tossing 1-2-3 innings in the 2nd and 4th innings. Things fell apart for Abbott in the 5th, but it wasn't entirely his doing. Omar Vizquel hit a one-out single, then Harold Reynolds hit a ground ball to second baseman Mark McLemore which should have been an inning double play. Instead, McLemore misplayed it, and the ball skipped into right field; Vizquel wound up at third base and Reynolds at second. An intentional walk to Henry Cotto loaded the bases for Alvin Davis. Mr. Mariner blooped a single which dropped between the second baseman and right fielder, bringing home Vizquel and Reynolds. Darnell Coles hit into a fielder's choice which scored Cotto, stole second base in the ensuing at bat, and scored on a Jeffrey Leonard single. Abbott then walked Mickey Brantley and his day was finished. His line of 4 2/3 innings, 6 runs, 3 earned, and 3 walks is deceptively poor, as he should have been out of that 5th inning with a double play and Davis' two-run single was weakly hit. Dan Petry relieved him and pitched the remaining 4 1/3 innings while future-Angel Mark Langston was in the midst of a complete game shut out. The Angels lost 7-0; it was Jim Lefebvre's first win as Mariners manager.

Five days later, Abbott's Angels were shutout again in his next start against the eventual world champion A's, and he was once again the victim of poor defense. He pitched 6 innings and allowed 4 runs, 2 of which were unearned, but on 9 hits. The third batter in the game, Dave Henderson, hit the first home run he'd surrender in his career. Abbott recorded his first big league strikeout with one out in the second inning when he fanned Dave Parker; he struck out 4 in the 5-0 loss. He picked up his first win in his third start on April 24 against Baltimore. Again pitching 6 innings, he allowed 2 runs (both earned) on 4 hits and 3 walks in the Angels 3-2 victory. For the season, he went 12-12 with a 3.92 ERA, earning a spot on the Topps All-Star Rookie Team and placing 5th in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

He fell off a bit in 1990, going 10-14 with a 4.51 ERA. While he was walking hitters at a lesser pace, he wasn't striking as many out and allowed the most hits - 246 - in the league.

He improved drastically in 1991, going 18-11 for a .500 team. His ERA fell all the way to 2.89, he reduced his hits-per-9-innings ratio from 10.5 to 8.2, walked fewer hitters per inning, and also improved his strikeout rate. He threw 243 innings in 34 starts, an average of 7.15 innings per start, an improvement over the 6.41 innings per start he posted in 1990. He was third in the Cy Young Award balloting. In addition, he led the American League with 46 assists.

He pitched well again in 1992, lowering his ERA again to 2.77 and generally putting up very similar numbers to '91, but his Angels were terrible and gave him an average of only 2.56 runs per start; Abbott went 7-15 as a result.

Off to the Big Apple and the Windy City[edit]

The Angels were in decline and they sent him to an improving team, the New York Yankees for J.T. Snow, Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen. His first season was highlighted by a no-hitter on September 4 against the Indians in Yankee Stadium. Overall, he went 11-14 with an ERA of 4.37. He was around the .500 mark again in the strike-shortened 1994 season, going 9-8 with a 4.55 ERA. In both seasons with the Yankees, he allowed more than 20 home runs. (His previous high was 16 in 1990.)

He left New York as a free agent and signed with the Chicago White Sox at the beginning of April 1995. After a couple of shaky starts, he settled in and was putting up an ERA lower than what he had been posting with the Yankees. With the White Sox second from the bottom in the American League Central division, he was traded to a team with semi-comfortable lead in its division: his old team, the California Angels. The trade, which sent him and Tim Fortugno to Anaheim for McKay Christensen, Andrew Lorraine, Bill Simas and John Snyder, occurred on July 27. At the time, Abbott had an ERA of 3.36 and had a record of 6-4 for Pale Hose a team that was below .500.

Back in Anaheim[edit]

Abbott pitched the first six innings of a 4-0 shutout of the Brewers in County Stadium in his first start back with the Halos on July 29, but only went 4-4 from thereon after as his team absolutely imploded down the stretch, ending the season tied for the AL West lead to the upstart Seattle Mariners, who were a game below .500 and in third place at the time of the Abbott trade. The Angels were blown out in a one-game playoff to the M's in the Kingdome on October 2, ending their season.

Neither Abbott nor the Angels got on track in 1996. He allowed 5 runs or more in each of his first four starts, including giving up Dan Wilson's first career grand slam on April 16. (His Angels had blown a huge lead late in the previous game against the M's in Seattle.) After yet another weak start on June 21 in which he allowed 4 runs and walked 6 in only 2 innings, he was moved to the bullpen for the first time in his big league career to get things sorted out. He was moved back to the rotation after three relief appearances, but gave up 15 runs in his next two starts - which totaled 8 2/3 innings - and he was sent to the minor leagues for the first time in his professional career. He started four games for the Angel's AAA affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians, with an ERA of 3.41 in 29 innings. He was brought back up at the beginning of September and pitched well in his first game back on September 8 in the Metrodome, but not in his final three. He wound up the season with a 7.48 ERA and a league-leading 18 losses with only 2 wins. He served up 171 hits, 23 home runs, and walked 78 men in 142 innings.

He was back with the Halos for the 1997 season, but was released on March 31.

The End of the Road[edit]

Abbott sat out the 1997 season after being cut at the end of spring training. The White Sox gave him a chance at a comeback attempt and signed him on May 27, 1998. He worked his way back up through the minors, winning 6 games in 18 starts with a 4.39 ERA. That earned him a September call up, and he won all five of his starts with a near-league average ERA of 4.55.

He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for the 1999 season and pitched reminiscently to his numbers with the '96 Angels. His 6.91 ERA and 1.854 WHIP earned him his release on July 23, ending his professional career. In 82 innings, he gave up an astounding 110 hits including 14 home runs and walked 42.

For his career, Abbott went 87-108 with a 4.25 ERA. An excellent fielder, he had two full seasons in which he did not commit a single error. His fielding percentage was .976 (against a league average of .956), and he had a reputation as someone against whom you could not bunt. In his lone National League season, he put up a batting average of .095, but in college he was a very good hitter, occasionally serving as Michigan's designated hitter while not pitching.


Abbott posing for a Dept. of Labor photo

Abbott wore number 25 during his big league career, except for his second stint with the Angels, when he wore 52. (Jim Edmonds had #25 at that time.)

In 1993, he appeared as himself on an episode of ABC's TGIF sitcom, Boy Meets World.

Since retiring, Abbott has become a motivational speaker. He is a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (1991)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1990-1993)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jim Abbott (as told to Al Doyle): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, May 2007, pp. 62-64. [1]
  • Jim Abbott and Tim Brown: Imperfect: An Improbable Life, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 2012.
  • Mike Lupica: "A career worth remembering: Jim Abbott", mlb.com, May 13, 2020. [2]
  • Peter Schmuck: "Defying the Odds: Jim Abbott's Amazing Story", in Zander Hollander, ed.: The Complete Handbook of Baseball: 20th Anniversary Edition 1990, Signet Books, New American Library, New York, NY, 1990, pp. 8-15. ISBN 0-451-16449-0

Related Sites[edit]