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In the Pipeline: Jim Abbott's improbable (and amazing) life

April 11, 2012|By Chris Epting

I'm not sure I ever rooted harder for anyone in Angel Stadium than Jim Abbott. But how could you not? The handsome, fresh-faced kid with the winning smile was an Olympian, a fierce competitor and an all-round athlete. Oh, and he was born with just one hand. But that's not what made him special.

To watch Abbott pitch, win or lose, was always a positive life lesson. He did things we'd never seen before — he was someone you'd tell your kids about. Adding to his impressive gifts on the field was his well-known reputation off the field for always making himself available to encourage kids who had similar (or not-so-similar) physical challenges. Abbott represented that rare athlete who blended elite physical gifts with world-class character and selflessness that today, sadly, seems somewhat antiquated

Abbott (along with the fine baseball writer Tim Brown) has finally written his story, "Imperfect: An Improbable Life," and while the book may have been a long time coming for many fans, Abbott told me that for him, the timing made total sense.

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"I'm so glad I waited until I was older," he said. "People had approached me for a long time, while I was playing, but it was such a sheltered world as a major league player. When you are in there, it is such a protected universe, it's hard to imagine opening up. But now that I am a few years out, I feel much better prepared to share the experience. I had to be brutally honest, and hopefully people will relate."

Abbott made his debut with the Angels 23 years ago. He was 12-12 that first season; two years later, he won 18 games, and in 1993, he pitched a no-hitter for the New York Yankees. Starting in 1996, though, he started to struggle, and after stints in the minors, with the Chicago White Sox, the Angels again and finally the Milwaukee Brewers, he ended his career in 1999.

The former major leaguer employs an interesting device to tell his life story, cutting back and forth between chapters that walk the reader through his famed 1993 no-hitter in Yankee Stadium, and then chapters that take us through the rest of his life. The no-hitter chapters are riveting; they create a pulse for the book that pulls the reader inside the game (in which the Yankees faced a brutal Cleveland lineup featuring Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Albert Belle, among other stars).

Abbott told me that he enjoyed the inter-cutting because it allowed for balance.

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