The crowd at Yankee Stadium erupted on September 4, 1993 as the final runner was tagged out and pitcher Jim Abbott earned a no-hitter in a 4-0 win against the Cleveland Indians. Abbott, who was born without a right hand, is revered in the sports world for his many accomplishments on and off the field including 87 wins and a 4.25 earned run average in his MLB career which spanned ten years. Jim’s no-fail attitude and determination are a great example to any aspiring entrepreneur of what it takes to make it no matter what the cost. I caught up with Jim recently and he shared with me how his fear of failure drives him, what life looks like after baseball and what it takes to become successful.
Jay: You have so many amazing accomplishments but was there ever a time before you reached the Big Leagues when you doubted yourself?
Jim: You know I was pretty driven in ways that weren’t always pretty. I had a really driving ambition. I had a fear of failure. I can’t tell you for sure if it had to do with being born the way I was born but I really, really wanted to succeed. And I worked. I took losing very hard and winning seemed very fleeting to me and I wanted to move on to the next challenge. Looking back that’s what fueled me — a fear of failure. And combined with a mix of wanting to make the most of all that I had been given. People talk a lot about my right hand, and honestly they make more of the challenge than I actually faced. I had talent and ability and I was driven by not leaving any of that on the table.
Jay: Becoming a professional athlete takes a tremendous amount of work and takes years of aiming for perfection. How does that experience translate to life after professional sports?
Jim: There’s definitely a work ethic that becomes ingrained into you as you grow up as an athlete. What drives you is it’s’ a passion and you love it. I loved sports. I loved baseball. Yeah it was work, I spent a lot of time doing it, but It was something that I loved to do. I went to bed at night thinking about it, I woke up in the morning thinking about it and I spent every extra minute thinking, how could I get better?
Jay: You were pretty passionate about baseball. How did you move on from that once you retired?
Jim: The fact that I grew up missing my right hand means my playing days were different than other athletes and in some ways that became a built in sort of passion. When I finished playing MLB I was able to think about the experiences that I’d had — both as a player who grew up under different circumstances and as somebody who really had a chance to play in some really cool places — and I realized I wanted to share my experience with others and mentor kids who might be in a similar place as I was. So, I started working as a motivational speaker (although I find that term to be a little cheesy). But I felt like I had something to share and it’s been amazing. Some of the kids that I met in Yankee Stadium years ago are now grown up and they’re doing incredible things and now they’re an inspiration to me.
Jay: Thinking back to when you were a kid, what kind of mindset did you have to to believe you could become a major league player despite your handicap?
Jim: I don’t know that it was ever like that, to be honest with you. I was faced with a lot of uncertainty growing up. I wasn’t always the most confident kid. And one of the things that I try to share now is how much I benefited from the generosity and the kindness of others. Coaches, parents, teachers, people who took me aside, and literally put me on teams that I didn’t know that I wanted to be on and included me. the fact that I played was because these people gave me the chance.
Jay: Having been on the receiving end of such generosity, what is your message for parents and teachers and mentors now?
Jim: I’ve told the story millions of times but in second grade I didn’t know how to tie my shoes and it was an issue for me. On the playground, or wherever, if my shoe came untied I relied on somebody else to help tie my shoes. My teacher, Mr. Clarkson, picked up on that and he went home,and taught himself how to tie his shoe with one hand. Then he pulled me into the hallway and we worked together on those loops and laces and that’s the way I use to tie my shoes to this day. It doesn’t take much to have a lifelong impact. What you’re doing may not seem like a lot to you but it’s incredibly impactful and I can speak to that because I experienced it first hand.
Jay: I’ve heard so many players speak to the talents that were cultivated by playing sports. What skills did you develop in sports that carried over?
Jim: My favorite principle when I speak to people is belief: that little bit of yourself that you put into a pitch oftentimes was what made that pitch successful. I feel like it’s the same thing in so many other things that we do. We go into this meeting or make this phone call and get it to be on auto pilot instead of that last five percent of engagement. That’s where I think real success comes from. People may do the same thing every single day. You may make the same calls selling the same product and but whoever can put the most of themselves into those calls, into that product, whoever shows the most belief in whatever they are bringing to the other person is usually the most successful.
Jim Abbott was born September 19, 1967, in Flint, Michigan without a right hand. He was an All-America hurler at Michigan; won the Sullivan Award in 1987; was the pitcher for the Gold Medal Olympic Team in 1988; and threw a 4-0 no-hitter for the New York Yankees versus Cleveland (September 4, 1993). Jim played for 10 seasons on 4 different teams and ended his big league playing career in 1999.
Abbott has worked with The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) on several initiatives encouraging businesses to hire people with disabilities.
Today, in addition to often being a Guest Pitching Instructor during Spring Training for the Los Angeles Angels, Jim Abbott is a motivational speaker.
Originally published at thesbjournal.com