Find something you love, and go after it, with all of your heart.
— Jim Abbott
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A baseball player or somebody who was involved in professional sports in some capacity.
How and why did you choose to play baseball?
I could always throw things well, so baseball called to me. I loved the Detroit Tigers as a kid, and dreamed of playing someday in Tiger Stadium. To be honest though it was just the sport I was best at.
When did you get the idea you could pitch? Is there a story behind it?
I could always throw well, and my first little league coach thought it might be a good fit.
What was the best part about playing baseball?
Being a part of a team. Focusing all of our energy toward a common goal.
What is your favorite memory from your baseball experience?
Winning an Olympic Gold Medal and pitching a no-hitter for the New York Yankees.
Did you ever need special adaptive schooling?
No, I just took normal classes.
You got your degree from the University of Michigan. Could you comment on that? What was the longest paper you ever typed in college?
I am sorry to say that I have not finished my degree. This might be the most I have typed!
What is your fondest memory about your days at the University of Michigan?
Playing baseball for UM is one of my proudest accomplishments. My greatest memory could be the day I walked into the locker room and saw my jersey hanging in my locker... Maybe also the snowball fights between South and West Quad!
Besides baseball skills, what else did you learn from the University?
Coming from Flint, Michigan, UM really expanded my view of the world. There were so many kids with so many different backgrounds and skills. It was very intimidating and exciting. I learned that there was a whole different world out there beyond my athletic experiences. I wish I had taken more advantage of all that was available.
Did you feel like your coaching at the University prepared you for the professionals?
Yes. My coach Bud Middaugh allowed me to pitch in very important games very quickly in my college career. This helped. I knew what it was like to pitch when you are in new territory. Again remembering your strengths is so important. The exposure to baseball at the Big Ten level and traveling nationally was a great way to prepare for the demands of professional baseball.
What is your favorite color?
Blue as in Michigan Wolverines!
What is your favorite food?
Thai, Mexican and steak.
Do you have a pet? What is its name?
Yes, a great dog named Billie.
You played quarterback in high school?
Yes, I loved playing. I had no aspirations of moving on, personally it was only about winning as a team. We had a very good line-up, but unfortunately we lost in the state semi-finals when I tossed 6 interceptions. Nothing like Friday night football.
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What was your reaction to being selected 8th overall in the 1988 MLB Draft by the California Angels?
I was absolutely thrilled. To be rated so high among the amateur players I had been competing against and with for the past few years was incredible. I knew many of the top picks because of my international playing experience, so it was very gratifying to be included in that class.
What was it like to be one of only 21 players since the institution of the draft who went straight to the Major Leagues?
Incredible. Everything at that point in my life seemed to be going so fast. The challenge was to remember who you are, and what strengths and skills you bring to the table. If you became caught up in where you were, and who you were facing, it became intimidating to make such a quick jump. This is a great lesson that remains with me.
What was your favorite moment as an Angel?
Making the team in 1989. Marcel gave me the news at the Gene Autry Hotel in Spring Training. That was one of the happiest days of my life.
When you started out with the Angels, Marcel Lachemann was your pitching coach. How much of an impact did he have on your development as a pitcher?
Marcel had an incredible impact on me professionally and personally. He helped me to understand the fundamentals of pitching mechanics. He guided me through the mental aspects of the game. Most importantly he was a tremendously honest and loyal friend. He is one of my heroes.
Angel fans know that you and Jimmie Reese had a special relationship. Reese certainly meant a lot to us fans. What did he mean to you and to the team at that time?
Jimmie was another of my heroes. He was a calm, funny, classy person who was a delight to be around. I think he gave everyone a great sense of the history of the game, which isn't always appreciated enough.
Could you give us any insight into the intense workout regimen that you and Jimmie Reese developed together?
Jimmie would hit me and the other pitchers ground ball after ground ball during Batting Practice. Not only was it a good workout but it made you a much better fielder on the mound. But working with him was always fun, I remember the laughs more than the sweat.
It's the bottom of the 9th, two outs, and the winning run is on second base. Which Angel teammate of yours would you want up to bat in that situation? Conversely, as a pitcher, which player from your era do you least want to pitch to in that situation?
As a teammate I was a huge Chili Davis fan, and Edgar Martines was very tough to get out in tight situations.
In 1992 the team was involved in an awful bus accident. How difficult was it for you and the team to continue to play baseball?
Very hard. Especially to people like Buck Rogers and Bobby Rose, who were physically hurt badly in the crash. '92 was a very bad year for the Angels as an organization.
In 1995 you watched Cal Ripken, Jr tie and break Lou Gehrig's "iron man" record. What was your experience of that historic moment?
Amazement. Jealousy. I always wanted to be a shortstop so I could play more often! Hard to even comprehend that achievement.
How would you describe Buck Showalter as a manager?
Buck was thoroughly prepared. I thought he had a terrific sense for putting people into situations where they could succeed. Especially on the offensive side of things. I remember those teams doing well against R. Johnson, with line-ups that were out of the ordinary for that team. Buck was amazingly detail-oriented.
You were able to get your fastball clocked at 94 mph?
Yes, that was early in my career with the Angels.
When you came up as a pitcher, you threw a fastball and a hard cutter. Were you able to develop any other pitches over time?
My slider was the main compliment to my fastball and cutter. I also through a decent curve at times. I would have loved to have had a great change-up!
What are your feelings on being traded from the team that drafted you to the New York Yankees? What was it like pitching in New York, for a team with such a loyal fan base?
I was surprised to be traded. I loved the Angels organization, and those negotiations were my first real introduction into the business side of the game. All in all, I am incredibly thankful for the experience of playing with the Yankees. There is nothing like playing in that city for that team.
What do you remember about throwing that no-hitter for the Yankees?
My memory is of the excitement of the fans. The tension building throughout the game and ultimately battling for those last three outs in the 9th inning. To enjoy that kind of moment in Yankee Stadium, with all the history of the team is something I truly cherish.
What were you thinking the minute you completed your no-hitter?
The moment I pitched the-no hitter was absolute disbelief and elation. It was overwhelming to do it as a Yankee, in Yankee Stadium. I cherish that memory.
When you batted, what type of bat did you use? What did the pitchers throw you, e.g., fast balls or off speed? Did you pull the pitches or what?
I don't remember the specifics of the bat... But both of my major league hits came on fastballs from the same pitcher Jon Lieber. They were both base hits up the middle. The first was in Milwaukee County Stadium, the second came at Wrigley field in Chicago. As you can tell, pitchers are very proud of our offensive accomplishments!
Who were some of the more popular teammates you played alongside while you were with the Angels, White Sox and Yankees?
Don Mattingly was one of my favorites with the Yankees. Mark Langston, Chuck Finley, Dave Winfield, with the Angels. Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, and Albert Belle with the Sox.
Looking back on your baseball career, who were some of the big names that you were able to strike out?
My first strikeout came against Dave Parker who played for the A's. That was one of my memorable K's. I also had a game against A-Rod where I struck him out a couple times, but he was only a rookie!
(From Illinois) Who was the most feared White Sox hitter that you ever faced and why? Also, who was the White Sox player you most admired as a teammate for the one year you played on the south side of Chicago?
Frank Thomas was a fearsome hitter when he was young. He hit for power, average and had a great eye. One of my all time favorite teammates and friends is Robin Ventura. To play with him while with the White Sox was awesome. The old Comiskey was nice, I remember pitching a high school all-star game there on a team that included John Smoltz.
Who was your favorite teammate and what team was he on?
Don Mattingly, New York Yankees.
The Angels were in first place, but the Mariners were slowly gaining in the standings. Was it noticeable that Seattle was in fact making up ground and if so, what does that do to the club?
There was definitely awareness that the race was getting closer. It was one of the first times that the Wild Card option affected the playoff race and kept a team fighting for a spot.
Outside of the outcome, what sticks out most in your mind about that one game playoff in Seattle?
Playoff, intensity. Incredibly loud and avid crowd.
Were you surprised by the atmosphere in the Kingdome that day?
No, it was always a very loud place to play when the Mariners were competitive. But it was amazing.
Excluding the one game playoff, what did you think of the Kingdome in general in terms of a place to play baseball?
I wasn't crazy about it. Dark, Seattle is such a beautiful place it was hard to go inside. Also they had some very good line-ups during those days.
What was the atmosphere like in Anahiem when you were traded back to the Angels in mid-season in 1995?
The atmosphere was great. Many good young players were coming into their own on that team. When I first arrived on the team they were incredibly confident. I think inexperience was that team's only weakness.
Give us the first words that come into your mind about the following players:
Mike Stanley: Solid. Great teammate, clutch player with power.
Jim Leyritz: Hilarious. Impervious to pressure. Loved playing baseball.
Don Mattingly: Best teammate ever. A baseball player, pure and simple.
Pay Kelly: Good friend, rode to ballpark with him in New York.
Randy Velarde: Smooth, versatile, another great teammate. Quiet.
Wade Boggs: Dedicated to the game. Incredible pride in every single at-bat. Much better defensively than most people thought.
Bernie Williams: Quietly great. Cerebral.
Paul O'Neill: Another great teammate, explosive temper but a sweet family man. Great competitor.
Scott Kamieniecki: UM teammate, one of my best friends on team. Fought a very hard road to get to MLB. Loved the game.
Bob Wickman: Midwest guy. Great sinker, great ability to keep it simple on the mound.
Steve Howe: Complicated person. But well-liked by everyone on team. Another UM teammate. Very funny.
Do you keep up with any of the guys from the Milwaukee team?
Not too much. Baseball is kind of sad in that way. You play with guys. You get very close. You spend a lot of time with them in the clubhouse. And then everybody kind of goes their different ways. They go to different parts of the country and families live in different areas. I don't keep up with as many of them as I'd like, but I have great memories of those years, playing for (manager) Phil Garner. I have great memories of that summer, although the crane accident (that killed three ironworkers at Miller Park) kind of lent a dark perspective to things.
Why did you retire for one season (1997), then return in 1998?
I was at a low point confidence-wise in '97, and I didn't know if I could get major league hitters out anymore. I had lost velocity on my fastball, which led to a loss in confidence. My decision to come back in 1998 was an effort to finish my career with a better feeling than I had in 1997.
Making it to the major leagues is an incredible accomplishment. When you look back on your career, considering the things you had to overcome, does it seem more special?
I am proud of my career. I worked hard. There's times when I wonder if I could have gotten a little bit more out of my left arm and there's times when I think maybe I got everything I possibly could out of my left arm.
I was born missing my right hand. My time in the big leagues was spent ... I really wanted to be a good pitcher. I understood that I was different. I knew that my being born without a right hand made a difference to people. But, I always felt like if that was going to mean anything -- if I had some measure of success to attach to that, then it would provide an even better model. I think I did well enough to do that.
So, my time after the game has kind of gone in a natural direction toward speaking to people and continuing to reach out in a mentoring sort of way to say, "Hey, anything is possible. Look at the circumstances that I grew up in. Look where I grew up -- in Flint, Mich. To end up playing on the West Coast, the East Coast in Milwaukee and Chicago. You can do it." I feel very privileged to be in that situation.
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How did you develop your pitching style?
I naturally threw a cut fastball. It was very hard for me to throw the ball straight even if I tried. Everything else in my style followed the foundation of pitching aggressively in the strike zone with the fastball, letting that natural movement work.
You had a strong 10-year career, why do you believe you were so consistent?
Thank you. I gave my best, day in and day out. It wasn't always good enough, but I tried to work as hard as I possibly could.
Growing up, how did you overcome playing with the birth defect of having only one hand?
I had the great benefit of being surrounded by people who encouraged me to see what could be possible. Beyond that I loved sports and baseball in particular; I just played as much as I possibly could.
What were some of your pitching techniques in handling the level of competition in the MLB while dealing with your birth defect?
There were only a few. I had difficulty hiding the grips on my pitches from opposing teams and coaches; this affected me more later in my career when throwing more off-speed pitches became important. You just can't sneak anything by the hitters at that level.
Did your handicap have an affect on hiding grips of pitches?
I don't, in anyway way, want to use my hand as an excuse for any difficulties I had on the mound. Until the day I retired, I always believed that there was a way to get things done, no matter what the circumstances were. I worked hard to try to hide the pitches from other teams, but if my stuff would have been good enough, it wouldn't have been such an issue. I think the pitching coaches that I had at the time would agree. I am certain that there will be another pitcher some day, born like me, who will devise an even better way of going after major league hitters.
Do you know of other one-handed pitchers?
Yes! Chad Bentz is a pitcher currently pitching with the Montreal Expos.
After struggling to master switching your glove to field did you ever doubt what you were doing? And if so what drove you to continue?
Only when I saw a few line drives up the middle did I doubt my technique, but I learned to "duck" like everybody else.
I am the coach of a player with only one hand. What is the best way to help him?
I was very fortunate to be surrounded by people who treated me just like the other kids on the team. The most important aspect of your coaching will probably be flexibility. Just learning to do things in a little different way is the key. Maybe holding the bat in a new way or transferring the ball from the glove to his hand. There are many ways to do it, it just takes a lot of time and practice to get to a point where it's second nature. One thing I found very effective was throwing a ball against a wall to field it, this really helped increase my speed in switching the glove off and on. Maybe a local sporting goods store can help you restring his glove so that the opening where he takes his hand in and out is a little wider... little adjustments like these really helped me. Keep up the great work. I will always remember and cherish the people who reached out to me when I was a kid. They made a lasting impact on my life.
Do you know of special glove for those with a hand problem?
I am sorry to say that I don't know of any customized glove manufacturers. I used to go to a great shoe repair shop, where they could make slight alterations in my gloves.
What advice would you give to players with disabilities? What were the keys to your success?
I believe you need to be very open-minded to new solutions. Comfortable with trying different ways of getting things done, and be strong enough to ignore the attention that being different might bring.
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A generation of children with handicaps has used you as a role model. When you were learning the game, was there anyone you followed or did you kind of figure things out on your own?
I think that's one of the amazing things about my playing -- there wasn't a paradigm for it. There were just so many people who took the time. My growing up was learning to do things a little bit differently. There were so many people that helped me -- coaches, my parents and teachers. My second-grade teacher taught me how to tie my shoes. I imagine him with a clenched fist trying to figure out those laces. It was that kind of generosity that I had surrounding me. I'm so thankful for that the people that took the time to take time out of their schedules and say, "Alright, let's figure this out. I see potential in this guy." I really was the beneficiary of that spirit.
Your list of accomplishments is amazing. You've earned the Golden Spikes Award and the Sullivan Award, carried the American Flag at the Pan-American Games, pitched a complete game to defeat Japan for the gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and pitched a no-hitter (as a Yankee, no less). There's no question that you were a great athlete and a great pitcher, but you transcended that by doing not just what most people cannot do, but what most professional athletes cannot do. You're an inspiration to many. What do you attribute that to?
First and foremost I benefited from tremendous encouragement as a kid. So many people reached out to me, helped me, and believed in me even when I didn't always believe in myself. I also believe that challenges can push us beyond what we might otherwise be able to accomplish.
What advice would you give to children with a disability?
Never allow the circumstances of your life to become an excuse. People will allow you to do it. But I believe we have a personal obligation to make the most of the abilities we have. The focus has to remain on what has been given, not what has been taken away. It is the only choice.
Former Packers quarterback Brett Favre visited with a lot of kids from the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Green Bay and he has talked about how it was rewarding but also emotionally draining. You visited a lot of kids at home and on the road during your time with the Brewers. Did you ever feel that way?
I certainly can sympathize with Brett Favre. It might be the first time and only time that Brett Favre and I are put in the same category. I understand that sentiment. Everywhere I went, it did seem there were a lot of families that came and kids facing every type of challenge imaginable. A lot of them were missing hands.
Playing baseball, for me, was my way of gaining acceptance and feeling like I wasn't different. Being in the clubhouse with the guys playing cards and sitting down and talking and then to get that tap on the shoulder, "Hey, there is somebody by the dugout" or "There is somebody outside by the clubhouse door." It would take you away from that feeling (of not being different). It was like, "OK, that's who I am."
I might get up off the couch slowly, but once I got out there and saw those kids and more often than not played a little catch with them and watched them switch the glove on and off their hands, it just made it all worthwhile.
Those meetings, and I still have a lot of talks with kids and exchange e-mails with them, I realize that those meetings probably have more importance than any game I ever pitched.
How were you treated growing up? By family? Friends? Other school kids?
I received an incredible amount of support and encouragement in my life. There was teasing of course but I was very fortunate to be surrounded by people who looked at the possibilities in life.
Did you ever deal with taunting when you were younger? Did it continue as you got older and even into Major League Baseball?
Yes there were kids and opponents who would taunt and tease. From very early on the playground you get used to hearing these comments and it makes you want to succeed all the more. I believe my desire to "fit in" motivated me. I think you face the awkward moments and second glances you whole life, on the field and off.
What was the most important factor in your youth that helped you overcome challenges?
I think the most important factor in my childhood was the incredibly positive environment that I had around me. From my parents on down people always encouraged me to get in the game. The attitude was, "Why not?" That is the best gift you can receive. My parents optimistic attitude about the possibilities of life still inspires me today.
When did you decide that you wouldn't allow your birth defect affect you?
I think it will always "affect" me, but at some point, you try to make the most of what you have been given, and move past the limitations that you face.
Do you like being referred to as being a great "one-handed" pitcher? Or would you prefer being called, simply, a great pitcher?
I guess being called great at anything is a good thing. My goal as a player was to be the best baseball player I could be. That's how I would like to be remembered. I think being constantly put into a certain category can be frustrating. However I am very proud to serve as an idea that you can rise above categorizations, and expectations of others.
Did your disability inspire you to greater heights and make you work harder?
Yes I believe that my disability pushed me to work harder. As a kid I really wanted to fit in, sports became a way for me to gain acceptance. I think this fueled my desire to succeed. I truly believe that difficult times and disappointments can push us to find abilities and strengths we wouldn't know existed without the experience of struggle. It doesn't make these experiences any easier though.
I play baseball with one hand, too. But I am not doing very well right now. I am thinking of getting out the game.
We all go through tough times. Did you know, one year when I was 13, I didn't get a hit the whole year! Not one. The important thing to remember is that you can never quit. If you really believe you can be a great baseball player then stick with it. There will other opportunities. Take a little break keep working hard and I know things will get better. Always believe that good things are going to happen to you.
What is your advice for children who have a physical defect and want to play competitively?
Always believe in yourself. Never let someone else's opinion of what you can do define how you feel about yourself. If you can find your own way of doing things, work hard, and believe in yourself, anything is possible.
About prosthetic devices, do you have any observations?
The key is finding your own way. Speaking personally, I never liked using a prosthesis. Remember though, this was a long time ago and I think they have made great strides in helping people with limited mobility and function. When I was younger the prosthesis that were available were cumbersome and attracted attention. I honestly found it easier to do things without the aid of one. I also felt much less different than everyone else when I didn't use it. If my child were in the same position I would encourage her to reach as far as possible without the help of a prosthesis, but I would try to keep an open mind.
Are there things you have difficulty doing today? Or things you can't do?
I am surprised to find even today that I try to do too many things at one time. I find my arms full and have to slow down and put something down. I love golf and probably encounter the same frustrations as everyone else.
Were there people doubting you could become a professional baseball pitcher? What did you say to them?
I think there were, but all I ever wanted was a fair opportunity. I used the negativity for inspiration, but it was a quiet inspiration.
When people ask why you're missing a hand, what do you say? Does it ever get "old" or annoying having to explain?
Usually only children ask, and I tell them that I was born this way, and try to explain how everybody is born in a different way. It is something that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember so I take it as being normal now. There are times when it would be nice not to feel different.
What advice would you give to parents of children who are born with arm/hand differences?
Love and support. Treat your kids as normally as possible. Encourage participation. My parents always made me feel as though my hand was a responsibility, if that makes sense. And they made me feel as though I was up to the challenge. They made me feel "special" without treating me special.
My son was born with a ulna deficiency of both hands. I was wondering how you talk about your missing hand to others. How did you deal with the teasing and staring? Did your parents have a big impact on how you dealt with strangers? I am asking because I would like to give my son the best advice there is.
I would just like to pass on a few things about my parents. If there was ever any courage in anything I ever did, it came from my parents. Their determination to allow me to experience all that life has to offer, surely caused them some worry. But, I can't think of a greater gift. They never shielded me from anything I ever wanted to do. It may not have been the most logical or the most obvious activity but that didn't matter. They supported me and encouraged me all along. Never over-doing it, just treating me like any other kid. I got the same spankings my brother did! But I love them with all my heart for seeing the world for the possibilities it held. I can also tell you that I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet so many parents who have faced these same challenges. You wouldn't believe all of the incredible accomplishments their kids are out there doing. Please believe me when I say that with your guidance and love there is very little your son will not be able to experience. Yes there are difficult times, kids can be cruel, but these times pass. One thing I felt was important growing up, was the fact that we lived in the same place for my entire childhood. In this way I was able to get past the awkwardness and come to be accepted by my friends, many of whom are my best friends to this day. There are so many great things your son will do. Just believe in him and let him know that you love him. These were the greatest gifts that my parents gave to me.
I read how your parents treated you like any other kid ("got the same spankings my brother got" I believe is how you expressed it) but how did you, personally, handle the kids that weren't as understanding?
Kids can be cruel and it was very hard to not always be accepted. Sports helped me to fit in, by participating I felt like a I could help a team and in turn feel like I belonged. Also they provided an outlet for some of the frustration I would feel. They were a chance to vent a little bit of that "I'll show you" attitude.
Do you think you paved the way for others who play with a disability?
I was very fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly generous people my entire life. They took the time to teach and encourage me. If I can help pass along this spirit I would be very proud.
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Are you still involved in baseball?
I spend some time with the Angels organization in the Spring Training, but other than that I am coaching my daughters teams and loving it! I’m just trying to figure out that windmill motion.
What are you doing these days?
I am doing some speaking these days to a wide variety of audiences. I am honored that so many are still interested in hearing my story. My goal is to encourage people to see the possibilities that life holds. So many great things can happen in life, if we can find our own way of doing things, and believe in ourselves, no matter what challenges surround you.
How and why did you become a motivational speaker?
Lilly Walters, my lecture agent, convinced me that my story could serve to inspire people. It has been extremely rewarding to venture out into the real world and see that your baseball experiences can have some resonance with hard working people in many different fields.
Lilly said that a large segment of the American population has no or limited use of one hand. How can you be an inspiration for children like these around the world?
I just try to open people’s eyes to the possibilities in this world. I try to mention the same people I have meet whose courage and determination show a focus on what they have and not on what they don't have.
When did you become a motivational speaker?
Answer from Lilly: Because of his celebrity, he has been speaking publicly since high school. He began to be paid speaking fees in 2000.
What are some of the topics you speak about?
I try to get people to believe that although life isn't always easy or fair, good things can happen. Baseball can be a great teacher!
What is the most important message of your speeches?
I believe there is great potential within all of us to rise up to the challenges we face. My talks center around the idea that adversity can be used in a positive way.
How many speaking engagements do you attend a year?
I give about 20 keynotes a year.
What kind of groups do you normally speak to?
Associations and corporations, such as Sony Music, Lucent Technology, Wells Fargo, Toshiba, United Way the March of Dimes, any many others.
What do you enjoy most about public speaking?
The opportunity to meet people, and see that no matter what our goals are, we face many of the same challenges and obstacles. Using examples from my playing days seems to cross boundaries that I never imagined. I don't enjoy the nervousness!
Any other stories you'd like to add about your life as a motivational speaker - what's been rewarding about it, etc.
It has been both challenging and extremely rewarding to speak to all sorts of groups all over the U.S. When you get the positive feedback from groups as a whole and when individuals come up and say thanks, it is incredibly satisfying. Almost worth the nervousness.
Describe your role with charities.
I am involved with many charities. Any charity that I have had a role in has had the purpose of providing opportunities to kids, who might not get one other wise.
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