Jim Abbott forced others to look beyond his disability, pitching his way past the doubts and skepticism. Born without a right hand, Abbott became an outstanding athlete, an inspiration to everyone who watched him — and now, a Hall of Famer.
This is a 1999 file photo showing Milwaukee Brewers pitcher and former University of Michigan star Jim Abbott.(AP photo/)
The former major leaguer and University of Michigan star was among 11 former players and coaches elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
"I'm floored," Abbott said in a telephone interview. "I'm just really thrilled and honored because I think going to the University of Michigan and playing college baseball was one of the great accomplishments of my life.
"When I was playing, I always tried to be more than just 'the one-handed pitcher.' I wanted to move past those labels. I tell other kids that they can, too. I tell them that they can be born in a certain circumstance, but that doesn't define you."
Other former players elected to the hall's second class include: Pete Incaviglia (Oklahoma State), Fred Lynn (Southern California), John Olerud (Washington State), Phil Stephenson (Wichita State) and Derek Tatsuno (Hawaii).
The late Jim Brock, who led Arizona State to two College World Series titles and coached Barry Bonds in college, was among five former coaches elected. Chuck "Bobo" Brayton (Washington State), the late Bibb Falk (Texas), Jerry Kindall (Arizona) and the late Dick Siebert (Minnesota) also will be honored during a July 2-4 celebration in Lubbock, Texas — the future site of the hall.
The 11 were selected from a list of 50 nominees by an 90-member committee.
"When I contacted our second class, it was definitely something they're proud to be associated with," said John Askins, chairman and CEO of the College Baseball Foundation, which established the hall.
Four pre-1947 selections elected in January — Christy Mathewson (Bucknell), Lou Gehrig (Columbia) and players-turned-coaches Joe Sewell (Alabama) and John "Jack" Barry (Holy Cross) — also will be inducted in July.
Last year's inaugural class included Dave Winfield, Rod Dedeaux, Robin Ventura, Skip Bertman, Will Clark and Ron Fraser.
Abbott went 26-8 for the Wolverines from 1986-88, and was the Golden Spikes Award winner as college baseball's player of the year in 1987. He also won the Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete that year, the first baseball player nominated for the award.
Also that summer, Abbott went 8-1 with a 1.70 ERA for gold medal-winning Team USA and gained international attention by becoming the first American pitcher to beat the Cuban team in Cuba in 25 years.
"I always felt like I had something to prove," said Abbott, who works as a motivational speaker. "I was born missing my right hand, but I was also given a lot of ability in my left hand. I was always out to prove that I could compete with others on the same playing field."
Drafted No. 8 overall by California in 1988, Abbott joined the Angels' starting rotation without going to the minors. He won 87 games in 11 major league seasons, including a no-hitter against Cleveland in 1993 while pitching for the New York Yankees.
Incaviglia was perhaps the most imposing power hitter in college baseball history, setting the NCAA career records for home runs (100) and slugging percentage (.915) from 1983-85. In 1985, he set NCAA single-season records for home runs (48), RBIs (143), total bases (285) and slugging percentage (1.140) — marks that still stand.
Like Abbott, he jumped directly from college to the majors, hitting 206 homers in 12 seasons.
Lynn batted .320 with 28 home runs and 111 RBIs, and helped USC win three consecutive College World Series from 1971-73. He went on to become the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 1975, a nine-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner and the All-Star game MVP in 1983, when he hit the first grand slam in the midsummer classic.
Olerud was one of the most dominant two-way players in NCAA history, hitting .434 with 33 homers, 131 RBIs and going 26-4 with a 3.17 ERA from 1987-89. He was the player of the year in 1988 after hitting .464 with 23 homers and 81 RBIs, and going 15-0 with a 2.49 ERA.
Stephenson, who played at Wichita State from 1979-82, was the NCAA player of the year in 1982 and still holds NCAA records for career hits (418), runs (420), total bases (730), stolen bases (206) and walks (300).
Tatsuno led the nation in strikeouts in all three of his seasons at Hawaii (1977-79) and was the first 20-game winner in NCAA history in 1979, when he went 20-1 with a 1.86 ERA and had a record 234 strikeouts.