During the summer of 1989, there was one pitcher who my friends and I imagined ourselves to be far more than anyone else during our daily whiffle ball games. We would play rock-paper-scissors, draw straws, flip coins, and even race down the street to see who got the honor of “being this player”. Whoever got that honor would take the mound, dig in, and prepare to make that ever so important first pitch. Growing up in Central Illinois, you may think it was Greg Maddux of the Cubs?
How about Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens, two superstars on a national stage?
Ricky Vaughn of Major League fame made appearances from time to time, but did he hold the crown?
It was none other than Jim Abbott, the California Angels rookie. His story captured us like nobody else, and the fact that he could overcome the challenges of being born with only one hand only to become a major league pitcher just blew us away. We would watch replays of him transitioning his glove after releasing the pitch, and tried to mimic the technique ourselves.
His 1989 Topps and Bowman cards were his first major releases, and in our neighborhood those two cards required more in trade than almost any player that year. Ken Griffey Jr. might have been the the only other rookie whose popularity matched Jim’s. After the well circulated Topps and Bowman releases, he was included in many of the harder to find update and traded sets. He was however fully present in the 1990 releases, and our binder pages were stuffed full of those versions as well.
While going through a collection I recently purchased, I stumbled across several of his cards and I found myself wondering about how his career ended up, and I was curious to discover whatever happened to him.
Luckily, we have the inter-webs, and I was able to determine the following about my 1989 WaxPackHero.
Jim was a two sport athlete in high school, playing both quarterback for his high school football team and pitcher on the baseball team. He played college ball for the University of Michigan, and with me living in the heart of Big Ten country, that only added to his mystique in my circle of friends. He made his major league debut in April of 1989 and had reached the bigs without ever playing a minor league game! He pitched for a variety of teams over the next ten years including the Yankees(where he pitched a no hitter) the White Sox, and the Brewers.
1991 marked his best professional season when looking at both wins and ERA. He was 18-11 on the season to go along with a 2.89 ERA which led to him finish third in Cy Young voting. He played most of his career in the American League in an era prior to inter-league play so batting didn’t come up much, but when playing for the Brewers in 1999 he had an RBI single which was both his first major league hit and RBI. That came against Jon Lieber of the Cubs and in an interesting turn of events, his second hit came a few weeks later. It was also against the Cubs, and also against Jon Lieber!
Check it out.
Today, according to his website (www.jimabbott.net), Jim lives in California with his family and is a motivational speaker who focuses on the need to ADAPT. Adjustability, Determination, Accountability, Perseverance, and Trust are the tenants of the message he shares with many companies and organizations.
There are approximately 400 Jim Abbott cards listed for sale on Sportlots.com, many of which are very affordable. I plan to add an autographed card to my collection in the near future! I can't think of a better way to remember that summer than spend $10-$20.
Did you collect Abbott as a kid, or do you still have a hoard of his cards? Which is your favorite?
If you want to pick up a few you can click here to learn more about Sportlots and how they can meet your set building or player collecting needs!