Abbott revisits his own history in Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Abbott captivated the sports world by pitching a no-hitter. And a quarter of a century later, Abbott was reunited with his game-worn cap from that game during a visit to Cooperstown.

Abbott, who achieved great big league mound success despite being born without a right hand, was a No. 1 draft pick of the California Angels out of the University of Michigan in 1988. Without spending a day in the minors, he began to forge a career as a successful starting pitcher, finishing fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 1989 and placing third for the 1991 AL Cy Young Award.

His 10-year playing career ended in 1999 with an 87-108 record.

Abbott, along with his parents Mike and Kathy, visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on June 13.

“I had a speaking event in Utica (N.Y.) not too far away and I just kind of put two and two together that I was in the neighborhood and I wanted to come and see the Hall of Fame,” said the 50-year-old Abbott, who now calls Southern California home. “My mom recently retired and my dad has been retired for a while. They live in Northern Michigan, and it’s not too bad of a drive for them, so I thought it would be a special family memory to meet up and come and see the Hall of Fame.”

“The both love baseball. To see them here and to see the joy they get from seeing all this really makes it worth the trip.”

Abbott’s only other trip to Cooperstown came in the 1996 Hall of Fame Game, representing the Angels versus the Montreal Expos.

“My favorite memory of that was we dressed and undressed at a local gymnasium and there was a pool. As the guys would come out of the game everybody came back and the Expos and the Angels were swimming in this pool,” Abbott said. “And there were these high dive and you saw Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez jumping off this high dive. It was like a bunch of little kids in there.”

Arguably Abbott’s most memorable moment on the diamond occurred on Sept. 4, 1993. In his first season wearing Yankee pinstripes, having been traded to New York the previous offseason, he held the visiting Indians without a hit in a 4-0 victory. Abbott would later donate the cap he was wearing that special day – solid navy blue, size 7 ¼, with white interlocking "NY" insignia embroidered on front – to the Hall of Fame.

“I’m quite honored the cap is here. It’s right next to Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitter caps, which is a little humbling. And I saw a baseball from my no-hitter, too. I’m really touched,” said Abbott, after seeing the cap on display in the Museum’s One for the Books exhibit. “Baseball, in a lot of ways, is a family. There’s a connection, I think, that we all sort of share. To have something that you used and played with here in Cooperstown is very humbling. I never thought that that would happen in my life.

“As far as donating the cap, I don’t remember there being any hesitation. It was like, ‘Yes, of course, I’d love to have that displayed there.’ The fact that it happened with the Yankees I think makes it a little more of a cherished memory because it’s a great connection to a great organization and a great city.”

Recalling the no-hitter, Abbott’s memories tend toward energy at Yankee Stadium.

“The countdown begins and you feel the anticipation within the teams – the team you’re playing against and the team you’re playing for. That’s what you absorb,” Abbott said. “I remember the sixth inning when things got a little quieter in the dugout.

“It was interesting because I had a no-hitter going earlier in the year against the Chicago White Sox and late in the game Bo Jackson flared a ball into center field. So everybody knows there’s a certain amount of luck involved. That really helped me, though. But I did sort of have that déjà vu feeling again.”

Growing up Flint, Mich., Abbott was a Tigers fan with an affinity for a pair of Class of 2018 Hall of Famers.

“Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, they both were big heroes of mine growing up. I idolized them,” Abbott recalled. “Alan Trammell was probably my favorite player. I faced him quite a bit and it was surreal.

“One of my favorite baseball stories involves my rookie year with the Angels during batting practice. I was shagging balls and Jack Morris walked over and said hello. We had met in Michigan and he kind of just stood there and looked at me and he said, ‘You made it, kid.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘The trick is to stay.’ And he kept going.”

Today, Abbott works as a motivation speaker around the country.

“My statistics didn’t bring me to the Hall of Fame, unfortunately, but my career had a lot of really incredible experiences in it. Not only growing up with one hand, but the places I had a chance to play,” he said. “I had really great success and I had great struggle in my career, so I’ve been able to go out and tell that story.

“And baseball is such a wonderful vehicle for telling stories and relating experiences. So I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that. I’m really lucky that it has turned out to be something that people have invited me to do. One of the offshoots is I get to travel and see places like Cooperstown.”

Bill Francis is the Senior Research and Writing Specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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