“Some of you may know that my career statistics weren’t that great. There were some incredible highlights and some agonizing lowlights. The truth is, I won’t go to the Hall of Fame. But if a career can be measured by special moments, lessons learned and a connection with people, then I would stack mine up with anyone’s.”
—Jim Abbott, Former Major League Pitcher
Most athletes, looking back on their careers, remember both the highs and lows. Rarely, if ever, does an athlete have only successes. Many former pros will tell you they learned more about the game and themselves from losing than from winning.
To be a great athlete, you must learn from your mistakes to better your game. Studying film, focusing on small skills, practicing for countless hours to perfect your game—all are necessary to keep improving. Coaches don’t look only at individual stats and W’s when evaluating players; they also focus on how players react when facing adversity.
Few professional athletes have faced lifelong adversity like former MLB pitcher Jim Abbott. Born without a right hand, Abbott had to learn to throw—and catch— with just his left hand—in a sport that’s difficult to play with all functional limbs.
What Abbott did required total concentration—not only on precisely aiming his pitches, but also on the simple actions of fielding and throwing to a base. The Michigan native had to throw the ball, slide his glove from his right hand to his left arm, and quickly switch it back if the ball were hit toward him.
Growing up, Abbott was told by just about every coach that he’d never make it to the Bigs. Determined to succeed, he set out to prove them all wrong by dedicating himself to perfecting his game until his weaknesses were eliminated. Abbott’s strong arm was soon pressed into service for the University of Michigan. After winning two Big Ten Titles, he became the eighth overall pick in the 1988 MLB Draft, selected by the California Angels.
Although his major league career was far from perfect [87-108 overall], in 1993, pitching for the New York Yankees, Abbott shocked and awed fans with a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians—a feat that has been recorded only 269 times since 1875.
Jim Abbott embraced conquering adversity and learned from his mistakes. Now retired, he is a motivational speaker who shares his story with those seeking to learn from and overcome their problems.