#1: Jim Abbott
If you’re a baseball fan—and even if you’re not—then you know that with spring comes Spring Training, wherein hope springs eternal…unless, of course, you’re a Mets fan. (Sadly, we speak from experience here.)
Matt Harvey—Dark Knight of Gotham, dater of supermodels and, oh yes, hopeful savior of the franchise—returns after missing all of 2014 due to injury…only for two other Met pitchers to be lost for the season to Tommy John Surgery, the same surgery which claimed Harvey last year.
While we’re on the subject of pitchers, there have been quite a few who truly were and are inspirational people—you might say overcoming adversity is a prerequisite to succeeding in any sport.
Christy Mathewson, one of the game’s first clean-cut role models and a WWI veteran, and Sandy Koufax, another great pitcher and role model, throwing no-hitters (including a perfect game and Vin Scully’s legendary 9th inning call) while standing up for his Jewish heritage, refusing to pitch on Yom Kippur—the holiest day on the Hebrew Calendar—before coming back in pitch the Dodgers to victory, both come to mind, as does Tommy John himself, the pitcher for whom the surgery is named.
But while Christy and Sandy are in the Hall of Fame and Tommy was a trailblazer, when it comes to overcoming adversity, few compare to Jim Abbott. In making the big leagues, Abbott truly was one of a kind—he is the only player to have played Major League Baseball with only one hand.
As a boy, he would throw a rubber ball against a wall, slip his throwing hand into his glove—which rested on the stump which ends his right hand—and then fielded the ball using his now-gloved left hand.
But those rubber ball exercises gave Abbott great reflexes, and he went on to not just make his high school and later college baseball teams, where he not only pitched, but batted for himself—and hit home runs one-handed.
He attended and pitched for the University of Michigan, where he won the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1988. From there he made the US Men’s Baseball Team and won an unofficial Gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and the following year he realized his dream and made it to the big leagues, signing with the then-California Angels.
But his crowning moment of glory was still to come. After pitching solidly for the Angels, Jim Abbott moved on to the biggest names in baseball—and sworn enemies of every Mets fan out there—the New York Yankees.
The original Yankee Stadium was called “the House that Ruth Built,” and it saw more than two dozen World Series winners, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, the 1950s Yankees of Mantle, Berra, Ford and Casey, the 1970s variety with Reggie Jackson—suffice it to say it saw some of the biggest names and moments in baseball history.
Even amongst such hallowed baseball history, Jim Abbott not only showed himself to be an All-Star when it came to overcoming adversity, he earned baseball immortality and joined those other Yankee greats in 1993 by pitching a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium. He also pitched for the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, with whom he got his first MLB hit—an RBI.
No one overcame more physical adversity to make it to the major leagues than Jim Abbott, after that incredible no-hitter and a career that spanned more than a decade, he’s still working to inspire people, having appeared on Boy Meets World and making his living today as a motivational speaker.
Remember—with baseball, hope springs eternal. Here’s hoping that Matt Harvey makes a great comeback this year…and that he and everyone else who plays the game may do so with the same degree of determination and character as Jim Abbott.