Michigan Made features Major League Baseball products with roots in the state of Michigan.
Jim Abbott never wanted to be viewed as a liability on the baseball field. Nor did he ever want to be known as just some human-interest story. Born without a right hand, Abbott rose from the baseball fields of Flint, MI and overcame his limitations to become a first round draft pick, win the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top amateur and author a no-hitter.
Abbott heard the term “liability” used whenever he was discussed, but that predetermined bias never stopped him from competing. At Flint Central High School, Abbott emerged as one of the state’s top pitching prospects. He also quarterbacked the football team in the fall.
In high school, Abbott developed his hand-eye coordination and a glove technique which allowed him to field a ball and throw with the same hand. His dominating stats on the mound had colleges taking notice, namely the University of Michigan. Abbott accepted a scholarship to play for the Wolverines and would soon become one of the nation’s top pitchers.
In three years wearing the maize and blue, Abbott posted a record of 26-8 with a 3.03 ERA. He worked tirelessly with head coach Bud Middaugh over the winters fielding bunts down each baseline to prepare his defense for the next level. He was voted the Big Ten player of the year his final season in Ann Arbor. Major league teams took notice, especially the California Angels.
Abbott had discussions with the Angels leading up to the draft, so it was no surprise that the Halos drafted him. The Angels picked 8th that season and University of Evansville RHP Andy Benes went first overall to the San Diego Padres. Four of the first seven selections that year were pitchers, including Taylor’s Steve Avery, who went third to the Atlanta Braves. When the eighth pick rolled around, the Angels secured Abbott. It was a dream come true for Abbott to be selected in the first round.
It didn’t take long for the left-hander to make his major league debut in 1989. Very few amateurs make the jump to the major leagues without some minor league seasoning. Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax and Al Kaline are on that list. So were Dave Winfield and Catfish Hunter. None however overcame the physical disadvantage that Abbott did. Without as much as one inning of minor league baseball under his belt, Abbott jumped straight to the big leagues and won 12 games for the Angels while posting an ERA of 3.92. Abbott would spend the next four years with the Angels winning 47 games.
The Angels traded Abbott to the New York Yankees before the 1993 season, and although the stage was bigger, Abbott responded once again by making history. In September that season, Abbott no-hit a Cleveland Indians team that featured Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
Abbott would end up pitching five more years in the major leagues with stops in Chicago and Milwaukee, before calling it a career following the 1999 season. A fastball which once reached the mid 90’s had slowly disappeared and Abbott felt it was time to step away at the age of 31.
Abbott’s career brought him to the west coast, to the game’s biggest stage in New York and everywhere in between. A remarkable career for a Flint kid who never let a disability define him. His resume is full. Induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, a member of the Michigan Hall of Honor, Golden Spikes Award winner, a member of the U.S. Olympic team and ultimately, living out a dream as a major league pitcher.