Book Summary: Pitcher Jim Abbott defied the odds by pitching a no-hitter in the major leagues despite being born without a right hand. Follow his humble journey from childhood to retirement in Imperfect: An Improbable Life.
As a kid who grew up watching baseball throughout the 1990s, there wasn’t a sports fan alive who didn’t know who Jim Abbott was. He was the one arm pitcher who threw on a major league mound once or twice weekly from April to September.
When Looney Tunes launched the Comic Ball cards in the early part of the decade, Jim was right there with Bugs and the gang. I thought the guy was an all-star and living legend since he was doing something so many of us could only dream of doing. The greatest thing about it all is he was a better person than any of us ever got to know.
I picked up Imperfect because I wanted to hear about how Abbott pitched the eighth no-hitter in New York Yankees history in 1993. It was the first no-hitter in 10 years for a franchise known for greatness, yet in the midst of one of the darkest periods. There is some argument whether the Yankees could have contended for the World Series that season had it not been for the player’s strike.
Abbott will always have a special place in Yankees history; however, he will always be associated with the Los Angeles Angels called the California Angels. That was the place that Abbott procured winning seasons, was a finalist for CY Young Award and pitched for Team USA at the 1988 Olympics. Most fans will remember that’s where Abbott made his mark on the game.
The most significant part of Imperfect the book was how down-to-earth Jim Abbott was. It was a compelling read, thanks to great in-depth memories and stories. I understand some of it may seem not very interesting. Although my absolute favourite story took place in Chicago, while Jim was in the big leagues, one of the other best stories was about Jim’s high school football career. Because most high school players get used on both sides of the ball (offence and defence), Jim was his team’s punter and second-string quarterback. After an injury, Jim found himself as the starter and lead them to a playoff upset in the first round. Although he didn’t win the State Championship, people could tell that he was a bonafide athlete.
In 1988, after an outstanding career at the University of Michigan as a pitcher, where he won the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States, California drafted the big left-hander 8th Overall in the Amateur Draft. That only occurred after he pitched in the final game of the 1988 Olympics, leading the United States to Gold Medal.
The biggest takeaway for Abbott at all these international events was the ability to be part of the team and represent his country. Jim was so humble, and he was already at a disadvantage, so he never took those opportunities for granted and just wanted to have the ball on the mound.
As for my favourite story, it was one night in Chicago. Abbott was in the middle of a bad stretch, so he was getting skipped on his next start. Angry, he reconnected with a friend while in the Windy City, and they went out to drink their sorrows away. The following day he missed the team bus to the stadium and was forced to stand outside on the curb and figure out what to do with a throbbing headache. A little kid approached him, asked for an autographed, and then offered him a ride to the ballpark. Jim took the ride, which resulted in the car pulling over so he could throw up in a sewer, but they managed to get to the park in time for the game. I’ve been following sports my entire life and have never heard a story quite like that one. To say that his memory and story are priceless would be an understatement.
Imperfect reminded me of another baseball story, For the Love of the Game. The chapters alter between his life story and an inning by inning recap of his no-hitter. That format may not be for everyone since they may forget the last inning details, but the arrangement works for baseball stories. I appreciated the in-depth information that this book told about one of baseball’s greatest stories.