A True Inspiration Among the Ridiculous
With all the Masters’ talk, and the NFL “Tebowmania,” it is now time to step aside and add a bit of inspiration to the sports world – inspiration that comes from an amazing professional baseball pitcher by the name of Jim Abbott.
For those of you who don’t know, it was on September 4th, 1993, that Jim Abbott had a monumental achievement. He pitched a no-hitter. Is that amazing to you? Only sort
of, right? There are other pitchers who have done this. However, they did not do it like Jim Abbott did it. He achieved his no hitter with just one hand. This is a master of baseball who was born with only a nub of a pinky finger at the end of his right arm; he went on to learn how to pitch, field, and throw by using his left arm only, and became a true hero to children everywhere.
Abbott’s long resume includes pitching for the Angels, White Sox, Brewers and Yankees during his ten-year career, but he has now put together a sincerely beautiful tale of how disabled children came to watch him play over the years and how his abilities and dedication changed their lives. Yet with all this man’s passion for baseball – it was those children who made his journey through the ‘Big Leagues’ the most thrilling. The book is titled, Imperfect: An Improbable Life – and if you read no other sports book this year, THIS is the one you HAVE to have in your library.
Jim Abbott wanted the same things as every other young child – he wanted to fit in with everybody else. But he also wanted to go a step further and ‘dismiss’ his particular disability by choosing a profession that he was uncommonly good at. For Jim, that came in the form of baseball. What absolutely mystifies people is the fact that this is a man who was twice as good at the game, as people who play baseball with both hands!
A coming-of age story. A memoir that helps humanity. All of these descriptions are fine for Jim Abbott’s book, but Imperfection is far more than that. This is the book that does for baseball what “The Blind Side” did for football…because it is completely real. Abbott went in-depth with his words and his stories and left absolutely nothing to the imagination for his readers and fans.
He was born into a home that was already struggling. His parents were very young, so having a child with a ‘handicap’ was even more pressure in their lives. But do you know what these parents did that was the absolute best thing they could’ve done for a boy? They ignored the missing hand completely. Jim’s father was a ‘sports’ hero in high
school and didn’t coddle his son, or pat him on the head and keep him in the house. He took Jim out into the world in front of all the other taunting children on the playground, and made sure that Jim got used to the fact that no matter what people had to say – he was just going to have to prove himself capable of standing tall. This is a young man who went from an ‘oddity’ in his neighborhood to a Olympic gold-medalist to a Major League baseball sensation after being drafted by the Angels – a true heroic story! This book is set against that unforgettable ‘no-hitter’ game when Jim was playing for the Yankees in 1993. But it is the small nuggets of gold – the details of his childhood and career – that really bring readers in and keep them there for the entire glorious ride.
I have to say that in the world we have now and the amazing movie, “Bully” that is sweeping the country (which it should), Jim Abbott’s story becomes even more important. Living his life with that missing hand – the thing that tormented him as a kid and provided difficulty in fitting in with everyone else, ended up becoming a staple of his career; a rewarding staple because disabled kids everywhere became his ultimate fans and loved him for proving to them that there’s NOTHING they can’t do. No one can put you down…no one can take you out…YOU are the master of your own destiny and you can go from ‘disabled’ to the Man of the Hour if you absolutely never give up.
Jim Abbott says about these incredible youngsters: “I didn’t see them coming, not in the numbers they did. They were shy and beautiful, and they were loud and funny, and they were, like me – somehow imperfectly built. And, like me, they had parents nearby, parents who willed themselves to believe that this accident of circumstance or nature was not a life sentence, and that the spirits inside these tiny bodies were greater than the sums of their hands and feet.”
Yes, Jim Abbott did eventually slide where his career was concerned – but, let’s face it, everyone has. Abbott went to New York, Chicago and Milwaukee and even had a final effort in the minor leagues when he went to Winston-Salem, N.C., and Birmingham, Alabama. Although Abbott, thankfully, left the world of baseball injury-free, it is chronicled in this amazing book how his infamous fastball just disappeared over time. Did too many A-players or too much time in the weight room trying to rely on that one arm hurt him in the end? Who knows. And…who cares. Nothing takes away from the fact that Jim Abbott is a luminous light in the lives of so many – especially those children who will go on to live their lives knowing that they should never worry about being ‘different’ from others.
There is a place in the book where George Steinbrenner of the Yankees actually said that it was the time Jim spent with all those kids that took a toll on his ‘play.’ Abbott laughs this off (and should). And if you’re looking for some baseball gossip – some insider remarks – there is all kinds of information about Scott Boras who was Jim’s ‘super-agent’ and his take on the brilliant man’s career. Don Mattingly, who stood on the Yankees’ first base during that incredible no-hitter is in the book, and the Angels’ Tim Mead, who was the true and utter human being when he promoted Jim like crazy to all those amazing youngsters who truly needed him.
Life throwing you a curveball does happen to everyone, and Jim’s life was truly challenging, but Abbott poetically and deftly reminds everyone that no one is born with all the tools that will bring them success, and the only way to handle a supposed disability is to treat it as a gift.
Thus, I leave you with this. Yes, the Masters was interesting. Yes, Tim Tebow and his place in the NFL will be interesting to see. Yes, the NHL will begin, etc. etc. etc.. But when it comes to pure sports stories, this is what you should remember…the words of Jim Abbott:
“I would like people to know that they’re not bound by the circumstances of their life. You know, you’re not bound by the situation that you may find yourself in right now. With optimism and belief and hard work, amazing things can happen in this world. So many things in my career – one of the great things about this book – is it showed me that so many of the great experiences and triumphs of my life immediately followed dark times and times when I didn’t know that good things could happen.”
For someone who is Imperfect – Jim Abbott’s wealth of desire, passion, skills, achievements and words are absolute perfection!