Recently my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time. As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about. This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserve to be honored and remembered.
"I take a lot of pride in having played at Michigan," Abbott said. "Pretty much everywhere I go, people know I went there. I wear it on my sleeve."
Abbott was born in Flint, Michigan. He was picked up by the Ypsilanti, Michigan American Legion team and went on to win the championship. He graduated from Flint Central High School in Michigan where he was a stand-out pitcher and quarterback. He played for the Grossi Baseball Club during the summer in the Connie Mack leagues of Michigan. He was drafted in the 36th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1985 Major League Baseball draft but did not sign, instead moving on to the University of Michigan.
The remarkable and inspirational part of the Jim Abbott story is that he was born without a right hand. When preparing to pitch the ball, Abbott would rest his mitt on the end of his right forearm. After releasing the ball, he would quickly slip his hand into the mitt, usually in time to field any balls that a two-handed pitcher would be able to field. Then he would secure the mitt between his right forearm and torso, slip his hand out of the mitt, and remove the ball from the mitt, usually in time to throw out the runner at first or sometimes even start a double play. At all levels, teams tried to exploit his fielding disadvantage by repeatedly bunting to him; this tactic was never effective.
He played for Michigan three years under coach Bud Middaugh, from 1985 to 1988, leading them to two Big Ten championships. In 1987, he won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States, becoming the first baseball player to win the award
After taking home his first All-America honor in 1987, Jim was on the short list for numerous major postseason honors, the biggest of which took him to New York, N.Y., winning the coveted Golden Spikes Award. 1987 was a special season for Jim. He earned All-America status, became the first baseball player to win the AAU's Sullivan Award and, also that season, he was recognized as the top amateur baseball player in the nation by winning the Golden Spikes Award.
The Golden Spikes is like the Heisman Trophy of College Baseball. It was presented in the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City and presenting the award that season was former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Abbott was the flag-bearer for the United States at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, helping lead the USA to a second-place finish. Baseball was a demonstration sport in the 1988 Summer Olympics; Abbott pitched the final game, winning an unofficial gold medal for the United States. Abbott was voted the Big Ten Athlete of the Year in 1988. He would be selected 8th overall by the California Angels in the 1988 draft. Abbott's University of Michigan #31 jersey was retired at the Wolverines' April 18, 2009 home game against Michigan State University.
In 2007, Abbott was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame for his career at Michigan.Abb ott, who pitched for U-M from 1986 to 1988 before embarking on a 10-year professional career, was the fifth person in program history to have his number retired. Maloney said Abbott's addition to the group was a "no brainer."
"You have to be very selective and it's a difficult decision, but to me, this one was not very hard," Maloney said. "Not only with the success he had at Michigan, but more importantly on top of all that, his humility and how he's represented the university."
Abbott retired from baseball in 1999. He currently lives in Orange County, Calif., and does motivational speaking around the country. He also recently worked on a disability awareness project for the federal government.
He counts his years at Michigan as one of his most cherished achievements.
A look at some of the key statistics Jim Abbott compiled while pitching for Michigan from 1986 to 1988:
26 career wins (Fourth)
13 complete games (Eighth)
3.04 career ERA (Sixth)
1987 Golden Spikes winner, given to college baseball's top player.
1987 Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year