Olympic Baseball Gold + Major League Pitcher = Missing Right Hand
Olympic Baseball Gold + Major League Pitcher = Missing Right Hand
Join host John Moffet as he speaks with Major League Baseball legend Jim Abbott! Even after being born without his right hand, Abbott found his passion for sports early and persisted in being the best, despite his limitations. Hear Abbott's journey from his high school team to the big leagues as a Yankee.
Read Jim's book, Imperfect: An Improbable Life:
This is season three, Episode 11 of sports life balance.
Jim Abbott 0:05
I remember being on my ninth grade baseball team and I was the only one who didn't get a hit, you know, on the whole team. And I was embarrassed by that. And and then I often think that it wasn't all that much longer about, I think about six years I was in the major leagues. And, you know, playing with guys who I watched on TV growing up and playing in the big league stadiums and playing against the very best players in the world. It was it was really, really amazing. And, you know, I just think back to the privilege of playing in those stadiums. I mean, they were perfect, you know, those fields, just perfect. But if there were times riding in a bus to the next town riding on a plane, you just pinched yourself. It was, you know, how does this happen? You know, pretty amazing ride.
JOHN MOFFET 0:59
Introducing major league pitcher Jim Abbott, sharing his perspective about his unlikely rise to the pinnacle of baseball. I'm John Moffet, and thank you for joining us today on Sports life balance. Jim was born without his right hand to teenage parents in working class Flint, Michigan. His passion for sports started early and with the unyielding support of his mom and dad, Jim thrived despite his physical limitations. His unprecedented talent and fierce drive earned him a starting position on the University of Michigan's baseball team. Then just three years later, Jim won an Olympic gold medal as the closing pitcher at the 1988 Seoul Korea Olympic Games. But Jim's crowning moment, the holy grail of pitching accomplishments was throwing a no hitter for the New York Yankees in front of a home crowd in 1993. Throughout Jim's athletic career, and today, as a best selling author, motivational speaker and family man, he has modeled his life around the mindset taught to him by his father, which is to always make the most of what you're given, rather than focus on what's been taken away. All right, shall we get this thing going? Let's do it. All right, Jim, will thank you for sitting down with me today. And speaking with me on sports life balance, really appreciate it.
Jim Abbott 2:17
Happy to do it, John. Thanks for having me.
JOHN MOFFET 2:19
You know, right off the bat. Oh, I that's that was a bad pun. I'm sorry. I didn't mean. But I've got an admission of sorts for you though. Until the last few years, I've never really been a baseball fan. I never really followed it. And in fact, it was the pandemic that got me interested, because baseball is is one of the only sports that was on like an early time to the pandemic and I kind of became a Dodger fan. And it also probably stems from the fact that I was an absolutely terrible baseball player as a boy so probably explains also why I went and became a swimmer.
Jim Abbott 2:57
Two different skill sets for sure.
JOHN MOFFET 2:58
In the Yes, yes, indeed. But I was definitely very aware of you though. And your story, and the fact that you were missing your right hand, and that you were a pitcher in the big leagues. And and after reading your book, imperfect and improbable life. I realized that your notoriety as a one handed Major Leaguer as a pitcher, was in so many ways, like the bane of your existence, having that always be part of your story. Explain your feelings about about that aspect of your career.
Jim Abbott 3:36
Sure. So you know, I grew up differently, I grew up missing my right hand. It's the way I was born. So I never knew any different. I can't say that, you know, the ways that I learned to go about my day were any, any more difficult or any more inspiring anybody else? It's just what I did, you know, I had to find a different way of going about things and then and then, you know, get the job done. I guess like anybody, you know, who has a perception of themselves, maybe as being a little bit different, whether that's conscious or subconscious. You know, there's, there gets to be there gets to be a presence in your life, I suppose a little bit. And so, I did spend a lot of my life I guess, working around all of that, working with it, working around it, working within it, I suppose. And I think it drew me to sports. I think it pushed me to play sports to the best of my ability. And then ultimately I became thankful for it but it was a long process.
JOHN MOFFET 4:50
Right right. So well, it it that takes me to the next question. We're shifting gears a little bit but with with I found with all athletes stories and something that I I find fascinating about I love athletes. And and it starts with their childhood, it starts with how they were raised. And your parents were very young when they had you, I think I believe they were just 18 years old. Correct?
Jim Abbott 5:14
They're very young. Yes.
JOHN MOFFET 5:16
Yeah. So so it was, it was, it wasn't the easiest thing for them to bring you into the world, especially under the circumstances in the 60s. And, and all of that it's explain, you spend a lot of time in your book actually really going in depth about them and their mindset and where they were, when you were born in a little kid.
Jim Abbott 5:36
Well, my mom and dad, Mike and Kathy Abbott, you know, they had me at a very early age, they both had pretty distinguished high school careers, my dad was a good athlete, and probably could have done some played athletics in one sport or another in college, and my mom was a was a very smart student. And, and so, you know, having a baby at that age, they had to give up some of their dreams, you know, they had to give up some of the life that was right in front of them. So yeah, it was, you know, early, it was a bit of a push, I would say, you know, the sacrifices that they made, you know, finding a way to, to raise a young family and to find a way to make a living. Yeah, we definitely, you know, it was an improbable journey, for sure. I think, if you would have told them at the time how things might work out for all of us, for my brother, my brother, I have one brother who does, who's done very well, and, and my mom and dad, I lost my dad earlier this summer. But, you know, my mom went on to become an attorney, and I'm just proud of all of their stories, as I guess I am on my own. Yeah, that
JOHN MOFFET 6:46
I mean, it is it is a, a, an amazing way that you go in depth into you, even before you were born, what they were experiencing, and all of that, I was curious, because at some point, you were fitted with a prosthesis and essence, it was, it was a metal hand shaped like a hook. But you really didn't, it was supposed to help you, but you really didn't take it shine to it. Tell me about why that was?
Jim Abbott 7:18
Well, you know, my parents were, you know, they were so young. And I don't know, the I don't know that they were grasping at straws, so to speak. But they were open to anything. And that was an attitude that would ultimately become incredibly positive in my life. And but it did lead down to some roads that you know, ultimately, we didn't end up following through on and so a prosthesis Yeah, they they had me fitted and I think they're pretty much the same. They haven't evolved all that much, although there are some robotic and different things that they're doing now with hands. But this one was pretty rudimentary, you know, you had a strap around my back and, and then it had the big a big heavy, almost like a cast, fitted cast, and then the metal hook at the end of it. So it was it was heavy. And, you know, it just wasn't something that helped me to do the things that I love to do. You know, I love to play sports, I love to mix in with, you know, the, you know, the kids on the playground. And, and that book, you know, almost served as a barrier to that entry. I ended up discarding it and I don't you know, I know a lot of people have very great success with process prosthetics. It wasn't for me, but I love the symbolism of it in terms of my mom and dad's willingness to get out there and try to find a solution and to you know, offer whatever aid or help that I might need to get through. You know, my my kids life my school day.
JOHN MOFFET 8:52
Yeah. All right. Well, yeah, you mentioned that they were they were really struggling there's no guidebook on how to deal with a child much less a, you know, a child that has some physical limit limitations. At some point they sent you I believe it was a to a rehab facility or a hospital it was Mary Mary Free Bed. Was that what it was called? Yeah, yeah. And you they spent they sent you there obviously to improve your life right to to make you deal to deal with the limitations better. But I guess about a month in your dad had an epiphany. Tell me about what that epiphany was and what, what resulted in that epiphany.
Jim Abbott 9:30
Well, it's funny, you know, again, sent me down to that to the hospital. And it really was a hospital it I don't know that I have an earlier memory of than that. I don't even really know. I mean, I guess I could guess how old I was. But it's stunning to me that that's, I think it was so jarring. And I don't really mean that in a bad way. It was just I remember it, you know, and I don't remember a lot around that. particular age. And there were just a lot of kids, you know, John, I've met so many kids and, you know, who have similar challenges as I do with limb difference and many, many, many more with a lot worse. And I've been very lucky, to be honest. But that was sort of when I was tossed headfirst in there, you know, it was, like, you I was saw kids, you know, just really, really up against it. And, and I think, again, it was an effort for my parents to put me with, in a positive environment put me in an environment where there were experts, quote, unquote, and I think my dad just driving home from there one day, I don't, I didn't stay months at a time, but I think I went a couple different times. And I think he just decided, you know, you know, this isn't how we want to raise him, you know, that I think there was, this epiphany that we were going to make the most of what would has been given in the focus wasn't going to be on loss, but rather on you know, positivity. And, and, and he had a favorite saying, you know, what's taken away wants is given back twice. And I think that's when he started to come around. And my mom too, and I don't mean to do not include my mom here. I think he felt like more was given to me than was taken away. And it was time to take the focus away from from, you know, what wasn't there?
JOHN MOFFET 11:34
Right, right. And so how did how did that change his mind? Your parents mindset? How did how did that? How did that then affect you? Do you do remember?
Jim Abbott 11:45
Well, I think it changed the entire mindset of to one of it really disallowed a lot of excuses, right? I mean, when when you change your focus away from, oh, gosh, well, I don't have this or I don't have that, and I don't, you know, this, this person has more than I do. You know, you can get it really can, can spiral down, it can be a barrier in terms of what you think is possible. And I think when you change to that, to that, what is given mindset, all of a sudden, the excuses are eliminated, you know, it's there's an accountability there are looking in the mirror, like, you know, what, you know, making the most of what you've been given, and it really became a driving force in my life, you know, it. It just doesn't allow for an excuse.
JOHN MOFFET 12:39
So how did that mindset translate into you doing sports?
Jim Abbott 12:43
Well, I love sports. I grew up in Michigan, in Flint, Michigan, we had incredible athletic legacy in the city with basketball players and football players and track stars, a few baseball players here and there, but and so it was the culture, you know, that high school varsity jacket, I went to movies at the cinema, and I'd see, you know, these people that I was reading about in the local Flint Journal paper. And it was not a conscious effort. But I know there was something about fitting in and being a part of something and being on a team. And those were my heroes. So I was lucky, I had a great stable, encouraging group of friends, that when we got up in the morning, sports, were the first thing we thought about, and we played until I got dark, and then we got up and did it again. So it wasn't that I was getting up and say, I have one hand, I'm gonna go prove everybody wrong. I was doing what I'd love to do. And, again, that that mindset from my parents encouraged thinking differently about how to go about holding a baseball bat or switching the glove on and off or tighten whatever it was that I needed to do to play. There was a way you know, spending that long every day doing it, you were going to find a way and so I ended up, you know, being drawn to that culture and that life.
JOHN MOFFET 14:07
Yeah. And you, you, you speak of the theme about that. Sports is a great equalizer for you. You speak about that throughout your book, in a very concrete way. And you also say, it doesn't matter how you were born. Explain the significance of of kind of discovering that as you grew up as a boy.
Jim Abbott 14:30
Well, I think, you know, like you probably and like most of us over the past couple years, I've immersed myself in different books and different podcasts and people and I love biographies. And it's funny to me that that a lot of the things that we're talking about today, John, you know, you hear about in actors or you hear about in artists or you know, musicians and different you know, there's there's a driving force behind them. It's not always pretty, you know, it's not always the feel good story. And maybe there's a lesson there that a little bit of discomfort can be what ends up prodding you to things that you didn't think you could always do. And so my story fits into that narrative. I really didn't, I didn't know that at the time. And I don't mean to tidy it up with a bow. You know, I love sports. I was very, very competitive. I hated losing. In an almost ugly way, I'm not proud of that I had an ambition that showed itself sometimes that, you know, I didn't know where that came from. And so maybe it came from my hand, maybe it didn't. But I was who I was. And I have to believe that that growing up the way I did missing a right hand, you know, played a big part in that.
JOHN MOFFET 15:51
Yeah, you talk about ambition and trying to do great things. And these are things that all of us grapple with, to varying degrees. But ambition I found also comes with a lot of pain. Really high ambition is a really uncomfortable place to be constantly putting yourself in it exactly.
Jim Abbott 16:09
Right. Yeah, it is uncomfortable. When you're, especially as you know, and and some of the other people that you've spoken with, as you get up the achievement ladder, so to speak, I guess when you get up and you start going against people who are really good at the same thing you're really good at, you know, the difference between moving on and moving forward and in getting caught is very, very small. And so you push yourself in ways that you don't always think are possible, and hopefully it doesn't eat you up too much. But somehow you come tumbling and flying out the other side, and you look around and you say, oh my gosh, you know, look at look at this, we never never thought that this was possible. And, you know, I have a chance to speak to people nowadays quite a bit. And I'm very heartened by that. And, and my message, I guess, at the end of the day is very much like yours is it's shocking to me the things that are possible, and in good. And within us. And you know, after the past couple years, I hope we will all continue to believe that because we certainly have had a lot of noise and a lot of dissonance telling us you know, otherwise,
JOHN MOFFET 17:24
a very, very well said and I can't agree with you more. You you you write that baseball found you. What do you mean by that?
Jim Abbott 17:34
Yeah, you know, I I love basketball. I love football I love you know, it didn't really matter to me what it was out there. Until baseball sort of just became something that I identified with it wasn't that it was a singular pursuit. To be a pitcher. You know, I started off as a third baseman on my little league team. And, you know, my one of my best friend's dad put me at pitcher and I said, like, I kind of liked it, you know, and, but it wasn't something that I woke up in the morning thinking about playing baseball, I was I'd love the Detroit Tigers. You know, I love the Detroit Lions. I love the pistons. I love the University of Michigan. You know, those were all my heroes. And so it was just that they say find something you love to do. And I know that's a hard thing to do. I know that a lot of people but but I found Baseball, baseball found me and it did become something that I I thought about 24/7 I always was thinking about pitching and trying to get better and, and I was very lucky for that.
JOHN MOFFET 18:48
Well, through that singular focus, you began to get really good. And you started really getting noticed, noticed and started receiving awards. And and you you I know you felt uncomfortable about many of the accolades and the attention that you were receiving through through your your prowess on the on the baseball field, you know, awards for being an inspirational person and overcoming obstacles and all of that. Why Why did you have so much discomfort for people recognizing what is in fact your life story?
Jim Abbott 19:28
Well, thank you for doing your research. I appreciate that. In reading about this stuff. I don't know You know, I was I was 12 years old when the first article was written about me and and it was great. I loved it framed in my office. I still have it you know, my my my friends teased me my parents, you know, got a lot of satisfaction out of it. And then as I did well, you know, it just became one banquet after another. And I don't mean that to sound disparaging, I'm very thankful, and I got to meet some great people. And I know the intention was great, I really do. But I just didn't want to be the most inspirational athlete over and over again, I really was trying to be good. And I'm not saying whatever people participate. But for me, when it became obvious that there was a connection to my story, and I certainly was appreciative of that. And for whatever good that that made for younger kids, similar to me, fantastic, right. But wouldn't it be great if the story was also one of success, you know, of, of doing well, and not just participating, but competing. And that's what I love to do. I love to compete. And so I'm very proud of awards, you know, where there was achievement involved, I wasn't as proud of the awards that were simply about participation.
JOHN MOFFET 21:10
Well, you, you were good, very, very good. And you actually earned a spot on the University of Michigan baseball team. I mean, and you mentioned that University of Michigan, you're a huge fan, that that must have been a big dream come true for you.
Jim Abbott 21:26
It is and, and I know, you know, right now, our football team is doing well. And writing a little bit of a high end, people, people don't always like to hear about it. But you know, I grew up in Flint, Michigan, as I mentioned, and my hero was a guy named Rick Leach. Rick leach was a starting quarterback at the University of Michigan for four years, he was a two sport athlete, he was, you know, he was from Flint. And, you know, so that being amazing, Blue was deeply ingrained in me. And, and, you know, to this day, I'm very, you know, you say very kindly that I was very good. But I think like a lot of athletes, I didn't think of it that way. You know, I always thought about where I was at that particular time, you know, and I always kind of looked at to the next step, you know, to the, you know, from literally to junior high school to high school, I never, I don't remember ever feeling like, Man, I got this lick, you know, I'm coming into this hot, you know, and people are gonna be opening the doors, you know, I was, I always felt like there was a certain amount of earning the next level. And so going to Michigan was a big time, notch in the belt and helping me to comprehend and be able to play with great players from within a very good baseball program at the time. And these are great players from Ohio, from the Midwest in the state of Michigan, guys who I'd seen and competed against. So that was a great gave me great confidence that, that maybe I was somewhat on the on the way but at least had been gotten to the place that was that important to me.
JOHN MOFFET 23:10
Right. And you you mentioned notch in your belt. And another notch in your belt was the fact that you started getting noticed, by Team USA that you were, you're in the midst of your collegiate career. And the you you were selected on the US National Baseball team to go to Pan American Games, I believe this was 1987 How was that team experience and dynamic different than previous teams that you had been on in your collegiate experience as well?
Jim Abbott 23:42
Well, you know, as you know, the the USA experience is just, it's just something else. And, you know, we I, you know, had a certain amount of confidence and had done had a found a certain amount of success at Michigan, but Michigan was still sort of a regional program, a national program, but, but they did very well, you know, in the Midwest, and so, to be invited to those tryouts and to be in the barracks in Millington, Tennessee, with you know, guys from Auburn and Stanford and Miami and you know, the the guys who had read about and thought about and to try out for that team and to make that team it it was gratifying personally. But I also love the experience of playing for that team because the mission was so singular you know, it was it was there was such complete buying and everybody was so happy to be there. Everybody was proud to represent their schools. They were proud to play against you know, Cuba and Japan and great amateur teams from around the world. And so it was just a magical I wouldn't trade you know, my my Olympic or Pan American game or USA team experience for anything it was it was the best teams I ever played for.
JOHN MOFFET 25:01
Yeah. And you ended up getting silver at the Pan American Games behind Cuba, which were very good at the time. Yes. But but that silver medal also allowed you to qualify for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. You spent a lot of time with the team again the next summer. And you dedicate a great deal of your book to telling those stories and what it was like bonding, traveling, competing training with this rather small group of guys. Tell me Tell me about that experience leading up to soul.
Jim Abbott 25:42
Well, we played an 87 on the Pan American team, and you're right to we had to finish second place in the Pan Am Games in Indianapolis, you know, to earn a spot in the Olympics the following year. So we did that, which was a tremendous sense of accomplishment. And then they they brought a lot of the same guys back maybe a core foundation, but they brought in some new guys. And so the experience was completely new. You know, we had Robin Ventura from Oklahoma State and Tino Martinez from Tampa and our head coach was Mark Marcus from Stanford, our pitching coach was Skip Bertman from LSU. I mean, all of these luminaries in the college game, you know, took time away from their families in coach the entire summer. We were together all summer, and it wasn't glamorous. We played in minor league ballparks. We carried our own bags, we traveled in school buses. And it was worth every second.
JOHN MOFFET 26:38
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Jim Abbott 27:42
And it wasn't glamorous. We played in minor league ballparks. We carried our own bags, we traveled in school buses. And it was worth every second, you know, because that team was a bunch of 20 through 22 year old kids. We were playing Cuba, you know they were 30 years old. We thought they were ancient. They were the best teams in the world. And Taiwan and Japan and Korea. You know a lot of those players this was a little bit before those players really were starting to come to the United States to play Major League Baseball so we were seeing some high level competition and a lot of times underdogs walking on the field. But what a formative experience I mean just to to play in those parks. A lot of people came out to see us in small towns where we traveled and played and and and those guys really came to love each other they really did and when we got to Seoul we got to Korea and you know the Olympic Village is a magical place right and all those athletes and those flags and that music to be together there was really a culmination it feels dreamlike now. Yeah, Dream
JOHN MOFFET 28:57
Dream light. Indeed. And, and those experiences don't often end up with such a happy ending in which you were actually pitching and that final game against Japan. When you your Team USA won gold must have just been what a transition in your life what a what a what a different trajectory, suddenly you must have taken after that magic summer
Jim Abbott 29:25
is true. I'm sitting in my office now I'm looking at a picture of you know, I know there's jam pile of baseball players in Korea and I was the guy at the very bottom he came and see me out of the pile. You know, guys jumped six feet in the air on top of each other. And you know, the Olympics, you know so much has been said and talked about and it's all true. You know that mean? To me the memories are competing. But it's also the village you know, the the great swimmers, the track stars, you know, everybody you know, great athletes read eating bananas and raisins and things like that. And we were eating chili dogs and french fries and having the time of our lives. But we did win. And, you know, I was out there for the last out and to celebrate. And I will never forget that flight home from Korea that long, long flight home and just being, you know, tremendously happy and calm and at peace and unsure of what was next. But knowing that that what had just happened was pretty wonderful.
JOHN MOFFET 30:31
I love the fact that you said that you're at peace that there was there was an accomplishment that was bigger than yourself that you were striving for your entire life and, and you came out the other end and were able to accomplish it. Not long after. If I'm getting the timeline correct, not long after the 1988 gold. You were also drafted first round to the angels. They're now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim back then I think they were just the Anaheim. California Angels. That's right. That's right. Once again, I show my ignorance about the baseball history stuff you have to excuse
Jim Abbott 31:09
or I'm showing my age.
JOHN MOFFET 31:13
But being drafted into the major leagues, and then being brought to Southern California, what a like an epic, consequential shit consequential shift in your life was occurring right then.
Jim Abbott 31:28
Yeah. Yeah, everything was happening so fast. You know, I, I remember being on my ninth grade baseball team. And I was the only one who didn't get a hit, you know, on the whole team. And I was embarrassed by that. And and then I often think that it wasn't all that much longer about, I think about six years, I was in the major leagues. And, you know, playing with guys who I watched on TV growing up and coming to California as a, as someone who grew up in the Midwest, you know, California holds sort of a magical place in your imagination, literally, with Disneyland and Anaheim. But coming out here, and then, you know, playing in the big league stadiums and playing against the very best players in the world. It was it was really, really amazing. And, you know, I just think back to the privilege of playing in those stadiums. I mean, they were perfect, you know, those fields just perfect. And they're even better to 10 times better now. But there were times riding in a bus to the next town riding on a plane, you just pinched yourself it was, you know, how does this happen? You know, pretty amazing ride.
JOHN MOFFET 32:53
But it, I would also assume that part of that ride into the majors is quite a shock, I would think to suddenly find yourself against playing against the the greatest baseball players on the planet. It must have been quite different than college or international play.
Jim Abbott 33:14
You know, it really was, although I do think flying internationally was a great preparation for professional baseball. But what I loved about the major leagues, and to go back to the context of having one hand and perceptions nobody cared. Once you got to the big leagues. Yeah, once the feel good stories were disseminated, got out and, you know, met with plenty of people and reporters and camera crews, you know, in my initial rounds through the league. After that, it was all accountability. You're planning it's people who are fighting, you know, who are fathers and who are, you know, husbands in grown men fighting for their livelihood and coaches who are fighting for their livelihood. And they really didn't give a damn how you got the ball to the plate. You know, they just it was all about success. And you know, the people in AAA didn't care what your personal story was if they wanted your job and they wanted it tomorrow, right so it was a fight you know, it was it was a definite fight it was I never really I guess there were a few times but you never stop and unfortunately take a deep breath and go Oh, isn't this the best? It was always like what do I got to do today to get better what I gotta do tomorrow to get better you know and whether it's mental physical or you know, there was always moving forward always trying to get better and practice and work and then you know, really the days go by very quickly.
JOHN MOFFET 34:52
But also being a pro athlete, there are some mighty struggles any anytime reaching the top and you spoke about this a lot before but, you know, when you get there and you're facing a tough day, or you just had a really, really tough day, how did you take that tough day and make sure that it didn't turn into another and then a week and then a slump?
Jim Abbott 35:19
Well, I mean, by might be asking the wrong person because I, you know, that was one of the most valuable lessons. You know, I had a, I had some seasons I was very proud of I won 18 games one year. And I, I also lost 18 games one year, and it was a manifestation of exactly what you're speaking of right now the inability to get back to the moment to simplify. To control the mental noise that made the mountain seem all the more insurmountable. Right, that it became, you know, when you're when you're two and eight, you know, and there's questions about your record and your place and a rotation. You know, that next time out, can take on a real added significance if you can't control it, if you can't mentally break it down and go back to the things that you do best and that you love best. And and that year, it did break down on me, I really scuffled with my how are people looking at me, what's the perception of me, you know, this thing that I'd always been good at and taken a lot of self esteem from was all of a sudden, on very shaky ground. Even if it was in my own mind, you know, and so, that is the fight for an athlete trying to compete with a clear mind about exactly what you're trying to do, you know, in a process based approach rather than a result based approach.
JOHN MOFFET 37:05
Right, and letting those emotions get carried. Let them seep inside you and become doubt right. Yeah. No, that that is definitely there's definitely a part of the balance of sports life balance that I you know, I'm any athlete realizes that it's a precarious balance. And that sometimes you're on and sometimes you're off and you don't you don't know why. After, I believe it was four seasons with the angels, you were traded to the New York Yankees in 1993, I believe by got the years is correct. That must have been quite yet another culture shock to suddenly find yourself from Southern California to living in Manhattan and, and playing ball in the Bronx.
Jim Abbott 37:57
Yes. Well, particularly for a Tigers fan growing up and for you know, an angel who will always thought he would be an angel. And I mean that with the team, not necessarily Angel. It was a shake up for sure. It was it my wife and I, you know, we I was traded to the Yankees. And there were great expectations. I was actually pretty well, I was doing pretty well. I wasn't traded for negative reasons other than I didn't sign a contract that the angels wanted me to sign so they traded me. And then you know what, though? I make sound corny. I am so thankful for having played in New York City. I'm so thankful I imagined I tried to think of a world where I stayed in Anaheim. My entire career. And I don't know how that would have went but to have played in California have played for the New York Yankees. It's a different experience. It's a hybrid existence, you know, the scrutiny, the attention, the players, the travel, everything about it's incredible. And, and so I'm happy for that. And it wasn't always a smooth ride in New York. But you know, they love you there, you know, forever if you can just do right by the team. And I'm thankful for that connection.
JOHN MOFFET 39:18
Yeah, yeah, for sure. You I've got to I've got to talk to you about the the no hitter. I mean, that's just you. You were struggling a bit. In fact, you had a rough game against Cleveland. And then four days later was September 4, another home game against Cleveland. And that's a day, Jim that even me as not a baseball fan. remembers. I remember seeing you in the news and reading and reading about you that you were you achieved that pinnacle of pitcher achievement, which was the no hitter, the you describe each of the nine innings in your book, it's kind of like the spine of the book. It's sort of like the through line of your storytelling. And you dedicate one chapter to each one of of the the nine innings. And I really appreciated especially me not knowing the nuances of of baseball, really trying to understand what was in your head and the momentum that you started to feel, especially toward the end of the nine innings. How did you keep from the pressure just crushing you? The nerves, the fear?
Jim Abbott 40:37
Yeah. You know, it's something where I was, I was watching the Michigan Ohio State game recently, in football, and I'm a big Michigan football fan, have been my whole life. And even more so now for some reason than I ever was. And I was so nervous in the second half of that game, and I looked at my wife and I very rarely talked about my career or whatever. But I said, you know, I was never this nervous. I never felt like this. And I guess for my kids played sports, I had an older daughter who played volleyball younger daughter played water polo. And I felt like that in their games, you know, like, I guess it's something about being in control. Well, they were
JOHN MOFFET 41:28
they were, they were at Michigan, and Michigan, Michigan. So which is no joke.
Jim Abbott 41:35
They did we share that connection, which is one of the proudest things in my life. But so to make a long story, I, I was nervous, I was excited. But it wasn't it was an excitement. You know, it really was an excitement about the moment about being that things had kind of converged, and it hadn't been a perfect game, my books called imperfect because it wasn't perfect. I was imperfect, we're none of us are perfect. You know, and, and finding, you know, this, this excitement, and this joy within imperfection, I guess, was the was the theme. And so, you know, that game, I just kind of roll just kept moving forward, you know, the innings piled up, and I certainly felt it in my lungs and my knees and my spinning thoughts. But yet, you know, I had been through a ninth inning with the in the Olympics, you know, I had been there at a place where I really, really wanted something badly to happen. And it worked out. So I kind of went back to that mindset a little bit. And I did a lot of mental training, I really do a lot of visualization in my career. And so I had some tools at my disposal in terms of control of breath and in terms of, you know, taking a break between innings, so it was excitement, it was nervousness, but it was excitement and joy and elation at the end.
JOHN MOFFET 43:03
And, and the fact of the matter is, as well as becomes perfectly clear when you when I as I read about the each of the nine innings is that no pitcher can accomplish this without their team behind them. And without the team firing on all cylinders. It's kind of a grand metaphor for for life, right for our communities, for our families, for our teammates.
Jim Abbott 43:25
Absolutely. And my team was phenomenal that day. The Yankees Matt Noakes was our catcher you know, just fantastically supportive and enthusiastic and the guys made birdie Williams made a great play in centerfield and Mike Gago made a great play. Wade Boggs made a great play. You know, like I said, it was a, it was a team effort, it was almost as if things were meant to happen. And Donnie Mattingly or team captain, you know, one of my favorite people in the world from Evansville, Indiana, caught the last out and celebrated and here's a guy who had done anything and everything in New York City. And to see his elation in that moment. It's just, you know, it was it was a great day. And I understand a lot of things have to go right for something like that to happen. But in some small way, I'm so thankful because it has given some people identify that game with my career. And to go back to what we spoke about earlier. There's some level of achievement, there's accomplishment there that maybe a young kid like me can latch on to and say, you know, hey, you know, I don't have to just be on the team I can do well, you know, I can I can succeed and I can play with other kids. I might do things differently, but I can do them to the same level as anybody else in this world.
JOHN MOFFET 44:45
It truly is an athletic feat that transcends your journey as that one handed pitcher I mean, absolutely, for sure. You know, just I did a little I did a little research. And you're probably more familiar with this. then me, but to date, there have only been 257 pitchers who have hit hit no hitters in the MLB. Just three 318 no hitters have been accomplished throughout the history of the MLB, which has since 1876. And if my math is right, that's 146 years. So I went on to read that the odds of any given pitcher hitting a no hitter, is point 00013. Well, what what an amazing, amazing feat that was. And I mean that wholeheartedly that that it had nothing to do with the fact that you were Jim Abbott, the guy with no right hand?
Jim Abbott 45:49
Yeah, I mean, I guess that's the that's the thing about it, right. I mean, there's so many things have to go right. And one thing that really helped me in that game and you know, I pitched had a no hitter late in the game, I think, the eighth inning against the White Sox earlier that year and Yankee Stadium, I love pitching the Yankee Stadium, by the way, I really something about being in New York and the pinstripes in the stadium. You know, there was a comfort there. But I pitched against the White Sox and Bo Jackson was on the White Sox team at that time. And he came up to bat and he kind of threw a pretty good pitch. And pitching is so process oriented, there's really not a lot of control you have over the result, once it leaves your hand, and any kind of flared a ball, he didn't hit it very hard, but it was a base hit. And, and so and then the next guy had a home run. So we were still winning, it was four to two, but I realized how quickly things can slip away. So to go to your point of how improbable that what the statistics are about that I know how hard it is to do. And and so there was a certain resignation within that no hitter, that I only have control over this. I don't really have a lot of control over that, like golf, you know, I can only hit the shot. And it might bounce in the sand trap, or it might bounce towards the hole one of those two things. I don't know. But so that really helped me that gave me peace of mind late in the game. Like, let's just throw the pitches and see what happens.
JOHN MOFFET 47:22
Yeah. Great. Great example, just to keep your mind in the game. Yeah, just do it every step one pitch at a time, right? Yeah, absolutely. You know, I've been thinking a lot about this in this in this question that I wanted to ask, but I can't help but wonder that if somehow having no right hand some supercharged in a way your your left hand and arm through sharpened dexterity of having your brain, our brains are all wired to work two hands. And perhaps it doubled up on the nerves and doubled up on the strength and dexterity and all that Do you ever feel is though, you have that that magic came from just this strange, innate talent that was developed based upon having only a left hand?
Jim Abbott 48:17
Um, I, you know, I don't know, maybe a little bit I know that it affected me psychologically. Like, I know that, you know, there wasn't a drive there. But I do think, you know, somebody, and I've met like I said, so many kids. I've done some met some kids up at with a wonderful doctor and Nina like Dale up at Children's Hospital LA, who's a hand specialist and, and gone to a couple of her clinics with kids around La Jolla, you wouldn't believe how many kids just in the Los Angeles area, you know, are missing out of a limb part of a hand, you know, and and they have to be adaptable. You know, you're constantly, you know, turning your hand a different way or opening a jar shaking hands are turning your hand over to open a doorknob. You know, there are certain things that are that are either right handed or left handed, so you have to find a way to get those things done. So, a dexterity might be a good way to put it. I do think there's a certain coordination and strength that goes along with having to do everything with one side of your body. It's important to go to your point about balance, to try to keep working that right side even though you know, weightlifting. You know, I always did a lot of cuff weights and different things to try to balance out both sides of the body not to become overdeveloped on one side.
JOHN MOFFET 49:51
Want to fast forward a bit to the inevitability of every athletic career and every something that every athlete must must face and that is that As your retirement and and your retirement from from baseball was I don't mean to categorize it in a way that the way you don't feel but it was tough. It was it was some it was some rough going, what made you finally walk away from the game that transformed your life?
Jim Abbott 50:20
Well, there's an old saying in baseball that the hitters will let you know. hitters let me know that, you know, it was just I really struggled the last few years of my career and I felt like I had, you know, overturned every stone and lifted every weight I could and ran every sprint and did every mental challenge I could put myself through and I just was coming up short, I didn't have the velocity that it took to keep Major League hitters honest. And so I had to be honest with myself and and it was hard, you know, it was really difficult to go out there time in and time again and out and fail. You know, it's just a hard to walk back into the clubhouse, it's hard to come home at night to your family. And I just had had, I just knew that it's not how I want to live anymore. As much as I love the game. And as hard as I knew it was going to be to walk away. I had to move on. And so it was a tough few years. You know, I had all my eggs in one basket, it's what I love to do. And I had a bunch of friends who kept playing for a long time after I did and, and I would watch the games and it really hurt. But it goes away, you know, after a while you come to terms with the fact that you did everything you could, there was nothing left on the table. And you'd become more and more proud of, of, I guess like my dad said what was given rather than was taken away, and you'd become more and more satisfied with that? Yeah,
JOHN MOFFET 52:03
yeah, there's I think as we as we age and get older, in some perspective, I mean, first of all, the the the acute pain when you have to end your career turns into this kind of an ache and then it just is more prospective. But you know, I've especially as I get older, I've realized, and I've gone through many as you many big chapters in in my life, and you know, you always want to go out on top, but I found that oftentimes those chapters and because of disappointment or sadness, or, or struggles or downright right, failure, do you feel that way? It's that we just need to sometimes it's time and move on?
Jim Abbott 52:47
Yeah, I, you know, I think there's a very important aspect of pitching a talk, you know, remember, we talked a little bit about not being in control of a result. And I think that's true in life, right, we only control the effort that we we put into each day and, and sometimes it goes our way. And sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes, you know, circumstances conspire against us. But we keep moving forward, you know, we keep finding those things in life that make us happy. And even if we can't get to them at a particular time, we keep moving forward. And you know, now I've gotten to a point and I maybe you have as well that I love using some of the training that you have, as a former athlete to, you know, some of that visualization, you know, in the morning or at night, or some of that, you know, meditation, I guess is what we were doing at the time. I didn't really know that but you know, some of that honest evaluation, you know, real honest evaluation, it's easy to, to pitch a good ball game and and think that it was better than it was, you know, and you maybe got away with a bad picture too. But hey, the result was there. Or you pitched a great ballgame and you lost and you feel like Oh, I did terrible, you know, so one of the great lessons in life, I think is is honest evaluation of effort, and of performance, evaluating, moving on and trying to get better the next time.
JOHN MOFFET 54:22
Yeah. Wow. I mentioned briefly a little earlier on that, that being drafted to the angels and living in Southern California Orange, orange county was a consequential move for you. And you've settled into your family with two daughters, a wife in Newport Beach, and it's coincidentally where I also went to high school so very, very, very familiar with Newport. And you're currently traveling you travel a lot as a as a motivational speaker, correct?
Jim Abbott 54:58
Yes, fine. After the pandemic, and what wasn't a lot of that going on, but during I suppose, I suppose but yeah, people are starting to get back together. And I'm very lucky that to be invited to some places that I get to go,
JOHN MOFFET 55:11
yeah, yeah. And you've mentioned kids, and how important it is that, that, that you share your story with, with kids? What do you tell the kids today that are facing similar struggles of missing a body part? Or are or struggling with with some other sort of physical limitation?
Jim Abbott 55:32
Well, first, I should say, I do feel a great connection. It's weird. And I know you have worked a lot with the Paralympics as well. And people have very similar stories to tell there is a connection there. both good and bad, you know, both both good, and the fact that there's an empathy and understanding of the journey. But also, there's, there's, you know, we don't need to be categorized together, just because there's a there's a physical, you know, limitation in some way that's maybe perceived, you know, we're all different people, we all know, nobody likes a label, right? So I guess that's the first thing I'll say, in the second, I just tried to, I just tried to be honest, you know, and I can only share my experience, I can't tell you what it's going to be like, for you. Right, I have different parents than you. And you know, they say no child grows up with the same parents. And I kind of agree that and no, probably no person grows up with the same experience with disability. Right? It's all different. But I do know that there'll be some speed bumps along the way, that it's not always easy, that it gets better, you become more resilient, you become tougher. And those times of struggle and a real upfront experience with disability, as you get older, start to spread out. And you start to you start to gain a mindset that allows you to come to terms with who you are, and being thankful for that. And that's what I've tried to say, I know, that's a lot for young kids. But I say, you know, you're gonna do this, you know, the same things, my dad said, you're up to this challenge, you know, so much more has been given to you that's taken away. And you're not, you won't believe the things that are possible, if you just keep striving for it and keep believing in yourself.
JOHN MOFFET 57:32
So true. And I have found that throughout my life as well. You know, to wrap up as a parent, as a parent, myself, a parent of two kids in their 20s I really relate it to the story of your parents and how they dealt with raising you. Explain now that your father especially but husband as well, how, how their example of how they raised you influences you and has influenced you raising a family?
Jim Abbott 58:04
Oh, wow. Well, you know, my kids, my girls, they've met every they put everything into perspective, right? I mean, they, you know, just watching them grow up watching. And we're very fortunate, we're fortunate as a family, you know, that they went to good schools, and we have a great life down here. And baseball, provided us an opportunity to see and do things growing up that I don't think we ever would have imagined in Flint, Michigan, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. But my kids have, have given me a chance to move away from myself, you know, to move away from all the internalization and the prioritization of personal goals and day to day things and everything shifts, everything shifts to wanting them to be happy. And and it's hard. You know, it's really hard because we all agree that discomfort is a good thing, right? We talked about it earlier. But then when our kids are going through discomfort, we hate it. So let's let's get rid of this somehow let's protect him from it. And yet you have to watch him struggle and, and go through that athletically or personally. And so the lessons do go both ways. And for me having two daughters, I'm most blessed that they have a great mom and buy. My wife has served as such an example for them, I get to play good cop down here and I'm happy to do that.
JOHN MOFFET 59:39
Well, and that was a lesson that your parents learned as well as like that you need to forge your own way and you you need to take it on the chin and wipe out and pick yourself up and all of that same Yes, I agree with you that watching your children do that is
Jim Abbott 59:53
very difficult. Yeah, sure is. Sure is and they're their own people you know, and I want to guide them. And I did a I did a event one time with another Olympian Coach Curry, who I have great admiration for and who coaches the USA team now volleyball and he said one time, something that stuck with me, he asks his kids and I don't know how old they are now, I imagine they're probably getting up close to where our kids are. But he asked his kids, what do you what do you think your mom and I reserve our greatest praise for? Which I think is a phenomenal question like, What do your kids think that you value most? And, and I, although I don't know that I've ever asked them directly that question. I would like to think that they think it's the same thing that I think it is that I you know, I praise effort and, and empathy and, and, you know, gratitude, and I hope it wasn't just results in in a swimming pool or results on a volleyball court. You know what I mean? So we're always striving, we're always trying to get better, and hopefully, our kids can, we can help them in some way, but also let them be their own people.
JOHN MOFFET 1:01:13
Yeah, that's that's the whole point of all this parenting thing, I think and families. Well, thank you, Jim, thank you for being so open. This is really, really been amazing. And I appreciate chatting with you and getting to know you better.
Jim Abbott 1:01:28
Thanks, John. I appreciate it. And I'll be looking forward to seeing more episodes from you and congratulations. And it was it was great joining Yeah.
JOHN MOFFET 1:01:38
Thanks, Jim. Jim is inspired by a quote from Cormac McCarthy's award winning Western, All the Pretty Horses. In it, the author writes, those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart, but it is just that misfortune, which is their gift, and which is their strength. And I agree, I found the biggest heartbreaks in life are an opportunity to learn that is if we allow ourselves to if you'd like to pick up Jim Abbott's book his best selling memoir is appropriately titled imperfect and improbable life. Thank you for joining us on sports life balance. If you've enjoyed this episode, please give us your five star review and do me a favor and tell a friend. Take care everyone. You've been listening to sports life balance with John Moffet.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai