“How about that?”

In honour of Mel Allen, the late great baseball announcer, I’d like to start a new feature on ‘The 500 Level’. Allen coined the phrase, “How about that?”, well before I was introduced to the world of baseball, but he was still hosting my favourite program, ‘This Week in Baseball’, during the Blue Jays’ glory years when my young eyes were constantly glued to the TV. So, without further adieu …

Jim Abbott, who threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993, and enjoyed a 10-year major-league career, was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays. “How about that?”.

Jim_abbott_200x150_wktvYep, Abbott, famous for making the Major Leagues despite being born without a right hand, was taken by the Blue Jays in the 36th round of the 1985 draft. A seventeen-year-old at the time, he opted to go to college at the University of Michigan, where — in 1987 — he became the first pitcher ever to be named the top amateur athlete in the United States. He was then drafted eighth overall by the California Angels in 1988, and went straight to the Major Leagues without playing a single minor-league contest.

Perhaps his best season came in 1991, when he posted an 18-11 record along with a 2.89 ERA for the Angels, finishing third in AL Cy Young voting. But perhaps his greatest performance came on September 4, 1993, at Yankee Stadium. That day, Abbott became the seventh Yankee pitcher to toss a no-hitter, and the fifth to do so in the Bronx. And it came against the Cleveland Indians, certainly no pushover. Though they finished below .500 in ’93, the Tribe’s lineup already featured several key members of the 1995 squad that won 100 games. Included in the lineup that day were: Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.

Remarkably, Abbott was known as a good fielder too, despite having to catch with the same left hand that he used to pitch. Wearing a glove on the stump of his right arm, Abbott would quickly transfer the glove to his left hand to field the ball or take throws back from the catcher. Often, he would simply knock the ball down on a comebacker, before picking it up and making the throw to first.

Abbott was certainly an inspiration to me growing up, and as we now find ourselves in the performance-enhancing (aka cheating) era, it’s important to remember stories like Jim Abbott. To me, he exemplifies what baseball is all about. Or at least, what it can and should be all about.

Courtesy of Baseball Almanac …

“There are millions of people out there ignoring disabilities and accomplishing incredible feats. I learned you can learn to do things differently, but do them just as well. I’ve learned that it’s not the disability that defines you, it’s how you deal with the challenges the disability presents you with. And I’ve learned that we have an obligation to the abilities we DO have, not the disability.”

– Jim Abbott

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