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Jim Abbott

One-Handed Major League Pitcher

Jim Abbott was born in Flint, Michigan without a right hand. He was an All-America hurler at Michigan; won Sullivan Award in 1987; threw 4-0 no-hitter for NY Yankees vs. Cleveland (Sept. 4, 1993). Abbott played for 10 seasons on 4 different teams and ended his big league playing career in 1999. Today, in addition…

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Jim Abbott was born in Flint, Michigan without a right hand. He was an All-America hurler at Michigan; won Sullivan Award in 1987; threw 4-0 no-hitter for NY Yankees vs. Cleveland (Sept. 4, 1993). Abbott played for 10 seasons on 4 different teams and ended his big league playing career in 1999. Today, in addition to being a Pitching Instructor for the Los Angeles Angels, Abbott is a motivational speaker.

Unique as a sports speaker because his story, and the way he delivers it, appeals to many types of audiences, even those who are not sports fans. In his keynotes, Abbott uses motivational sports stories of how he overcame adversity, and anecdotes from his career as a professional baseball pitcher.

Abbott has battled the odds his entire life. Despite being born with only one hand he was the 15th player to ever make a professional debut in the Major Leagues. Many considered the move a publicity stunt by manager Doug Rader, but after struggling early, Abbott proved his doubters wrong by winning 12 games with a 3.92 ERA in his rookie season. In 1988, as a member of the U.S. Olympic baseball team, Abbott pitched a complete game leading the United States to a gold medal victory over Japan, in Seoul, Korea

On the mound, Abbott wore a right-hander’s fielder’s glove at the end of his right arm. While completing his follow-through after delivering a pitch, he rapidly switched the glove to his left hand so he could handle any balls hit back to him. In that first 1989 season as a professional he won more games as a rookie than any other previous player without Major League experience. His autobiography Imperfect: An Improbable Life (April 2012) follows his remarkable journey.

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ADAPT – Overcoming Challenges
Major League pitcher Jim Abbott was born with only one hand, but he adapted, overcame adversity and found excellence in his 10-year professional pitching career. Abbott knows that to continue to move towards our goals we must be willing to adapt, to change, and to mold ourselves in order to meet the obstacles in our own way. Using ADAPT as an acronym, Abbott strings together a powerful set of words that provide five incredible strategies to help audiences reach their fullest potential.

    A – Adjustability
    D – Determination
    A – Accountability
    P – Perseverance
    T – Trust

Adjustability
Let me start with A. Adjustability. To achieve great things in this world you must be able to adjust to what is being asked. My dream wasn’t to play in the major leagues. My dream was to play baseball at all. In order to do that, I had to develop a new way of doing things. I really wanted to join in with my friends but to do that I needed to learn to play in a much different way than they did. When you NEED something, you find a way.

I can’t take credit for this. I was surrounded by wonderful people, who had the patience and creativity to help me devise the strategies I would need to get through life. Starting of course, with my parents, teachers, friends. If there is courage in my story, it was theirs. Their generosity of spirit gave me an ingrained optimism that there is a solution to be found for any problem. It may take some flexibility but it is there.

I learned along the way, that doing things in new ways always involves risk. You have to be willing to take a chance. You will also expose yourself to a lot of skepticism and those who will say you can’t do it that way. This brings us to the next word in our ADAPT chain.

Determination
Once you’ve found your way, you have to work it make it happen. Once you’ve found what you love, don’t let anything stand in your way. I don’t have to tell you that the only way to get what you want is to work your butt off. We all know that. A pitcher’s success depends on the training he puts in before he takes the field.

There is another aspect of determination that I think is equally as important. We talked about those who say you can’t. You must be determined in your belief that you can. I can think of so many examples of people who, in one form or another, questioned my playing ability. Many teams bunted over and over again to see if I could make that simple play. One team bunted 6 times in a row.

My first college win came when they tried to steal home on the catchers throw back to me. My point is that you have to create a strong filter that weeds out the negativity in whatever form it takes. You know what I mean. When we aren’t feeling so strong, little things can keep us down, little comments, and body language from your boss. Even our own thinking can be corrosive when we let any thought carry us away.

You have to be determined not to let someone else’s opinion of you define what you think of yourself. Only you know in your heart all the things you are capable of… Which brings us to accountability.

Accountability Accountability: the heart and soul of my ADAPT chain. Basically, accountability says that we are responsible for the abilities we’ve been given. It is unforgiving. When we look in the mirror can we say that we’ve made the most of our talents, no matter how big or how small? Are we making the most of the potential we have in all aspects of our lives? As a father, as a husband, as a co-worker. Accountability is brutal, but we need it to keep pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.

Perseverance
Sticking with it. Life is full of ups and downs and how we respond to adversity makes us who we are. You may have seen the highlights, the good times in my career, but there were many difficult times.

In 1996 I went out and had what might be one of the worst years a pitcher can have: 2-18. Sports had always been my crutch. For an insecure kid who wanted very much to be accepted, success in athletics covered up a lot of hurt for a long time. But in 1996 it all came crashing down. I was failing. As hard as I tried it would just get worse. By the end of they year I was sent to the minor leagues for the first time in my life. I’m not going to tell you that I handled that year with all of the grace I would have liked. All I could do was to keep on trying. The following spring I was released from the Angels. Cleaned out my locker in front of my friends and drove home alone through the Arizona desert. My whole world was upside down. I missed it so much. I desperately wanted to get back, but I was also gun-shy from going through a year and a half of failure.

Inspiration can come from unexpected places. An old manager called, he told me that he didn’t think I was finished. And that’s all it took, we started working.

Finally things turned around instead of baby steps those I started making large strides until I was able to call my wife and tell her the Chicago White Sox had just called me back to the big leagues. I could have kissed the mound. To make it back seems to me as great an accomplishment as making it in the first place. That experience illuminated to me that no matter how far we go in life we will continue to be tested. There is no finish line.

Trust
Trust is my favorite and it is appropriate that it comes last. After you’ve found your way, after you have put the work in, after you have made the most of the abilities you were given, and stuck with it, it comes down to trust. Believing in the incredible amount of work you’ve done and knowing you are prepared for anything. When push comes to shove you draw your line in the sand and say, “This is who I am.”

Trust in yourself. That belief that you can do it. Trust in yourself and believe that you can respond in any circumstance.

Throwing a no-hitter was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. To throw it in Yankee Stadium made is even more dramatic. That game is the greatest illustration I can think of to demonstrate the importance of trust. During that game the pressure starting mounting in the 6th inning. Pitch by pitch the fans were getting excited, and the atmosphere were becoming electric. That day the mound at Yankee Stadium began to feel like the eye of a hurricane.

Fans, teammates, result thinking, everything starts speeding up big time. The challenge was to bring it back to laser-like focus. This pitch to that spot. Come on, now trust it. Throw this pitch with confidence. You see i’ts that trust, that last little oomph in the delivery that makes all the difference. It all comes back to trusting in yourself and the work you have done, you’re ready for this, bring it on.

So that is why I am a big believer in ADAPTing. Not only can we mold ourselves to the challenges that come our way. We can also break that word down into those 5 components and give ourselves 5 incredible strategies, and apply them any aspect of our lives. But going through life with a few extra challenges has made me a better person, not better than anyone else but better than I would have been. I’ve learned that sometimes adversity can be a good thing.

Videos

Jim Abbott's Improbable Dream

Misfortune as a Gift - Jim Abbott - TEDxSageHillSchool

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