It Happened at Michigan — Born to handle winning


When Jim Abbott pitched his first Little League game as an 11-year-old growing up in Flint, he fired a no-hitter.

It was a glimpse of the extraordinary career to come.

Abbott was born without a right hand. As a southpaw, he placed a lefthander’s mitt on the end of his right arm. After releasing the ball, he would flip the mitt onto his left hand to field any balls.

A photo of Jim Abbott pitching a baseball
Jim Abbott was inducted into the Michigan Athletics Hall of Honor in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library)

“After catching the ball, he would cradle the glove against his chest in the crook of his right arm and extract the ball with his good left hand, ready to make another throw. Observers invariably marveled at how smoothly and efficiently he could catch and throw the ball with one hand,” wrote Rick Swaine in profiling Abbott in his book, Beating the Breaks: Major League Ballplayers Who Overcame Disabilities.

A standout athlete at Flint Central High School, where he also starred as a quarterback, Abbott turned down a professional baseball contract to accept a U-M baseball scholarship in 1985 instead.

Abbott’s achievements as a U-M student include:

A photo of Jim Abbott
Jim Abbott with the 1987 Golden Spikes Award. (Photo courtesy of Bentley Historical Library)
  • Posting a 26-8 record.
  • Receiving the 1987 Golden Spikes Award as the country’s best college baseball player.
  • Being named the 1988 Big Ten Conference Male Athlete of the Year.
  • Becoming the first baseball player in history to receive the prestigious Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.
  • Being the first baseball player named Big Ten Conference Player of the Year.
  • Leading the United States to a gold medal by pitching the winning game against Japan in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Abbott was a first-round draft pick of the California Angels in 1988, bypassing the minor leagues to make his major league debut that same year. As a New York Yankee, he threw a no-hitter in 1993. He retired from baseball in 1999.

“My path in baseball wasn’t always clear cut,” Abbott said after being inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. “To play at the University of Michigan, a school which I looked up to for a long time as a kid, truly was a dream come true.”

He was the first U-M player to join the Hall of Fame. Michigan Athletics retired Abbott’s No. 31 jersey in 2009.


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