Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Imperfect: An Improbable Life

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by Jim Abbott, Tim Brown

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On an overcast September day in 1993, Jim Abbott took the mound at Yankee Stadium and threw one of the most dramatic no-hitters in major-league history. The game was the crowning achievement in an unlikely success story, unseen in the annals of professional sports. In Imperfect, the one-time big league ace retraces his remarkable journey.

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On an overcast September day in 1993, Jim Abbott took the mound at Yankee Stadium and threw one of the most dramatic no-hitters in major-league history. The game was the crowning achievement in an unlikely success story, unseen in the annals of professional sports. In Imperfect, the one-time big league ace retraces his remarkable journey.
Born without a right hand, Jim Abbott as a boy dreamed of being a great athlete. Raised in Flint, Michigan, by parents who saw in his condition not a disability but an extraordinary opportunity, Jim became a two-sport standout in high school, then an ace pitcher for the University of Michigan.
But his journey was only beginning.
As a nineteen-year-old, Jim beat the vaunted Cuban National Team. By twenty-one, he’d won the gold medal game at the 1988 Olympics and—without spending a day in the minor leagues—cracked the starting rotation of the California Angels. In 1991, he would finish third in the voting for the Cy Young Award. Two years later, he would don Yankee pinstripes and deliver a one-of-a-kind no-hitter.
It wouldn’t always be so good. After a season full of difficult losses—some of them by football scores—Jim was released, cut off from the game he loved. Unable to say good-bye so soon, Jim tried to come back, pushing himself to the limit—and through one of the loneliest experiences an athlete can have.
But always, even then, there were children and their parents waiting for him outside the clubhouse doors, many of them with disabilities like his, seeking consolation and advice. These obligations became Jim’s greatest honor.
In this honest and insightful memoir, Jim Abbott reveals the insecurities of a life spent as the different one, how he habitually hid his disability in his right front pocket, and why he chose an occupation in which the uniform provided no front pockets. With a riveting pitch-by-pitch account of his no-hitter providing the ideal frame for his story, this unique athlete offers readers an extraordinary and unforgettable memoir.

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Editorial Reviews

Former major league pitcher Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, but he didn't want to pigeon-holed as handicapped, once telling a reporter that he wanted to be like Nolan Ryan and not like Pete Gray. (The former is the Hall of Fame pitcher; the latter, the famous one-armed WWI era major league outfielder.) Abbott made himself memorable with a ten-year career that included an 18-11 season with the California Angels and a 1993 no-hitter while pitching for the Yankees. His candid autobiography situates its constellation around his personal drive to overcome his disability and that historic game. An inspiring story delivered with a flair.

Lisa Echenthal

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.12(d)

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I spent two baseball seasons in New York and enjoyed them most on Saturday mornings, when the city composed itself with a long, slow breath.

Maybe it was a sigh.

Either way, on this particular Saturday the sidewalks twenty-­seven floors below the apartment window were less cluttered, the taxi hailers appeared in a hurry but not altogether panic-­stricken, the dog walkers smiled and nodded at passersby as their little city pooches, pleased not to be rushed, did their morning business. Across 90th Street, a broad patch of emerald green—­conspicuously so against the old brick and brownstone and grit—­hosted a game of soccer, filling the neighborhood with cries of encouragement, whoops, and applause.

The sky was gray, a leaden touch to a yawn-­and-­stretch morning on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The idle observations from the uniformed lobby doorman and the waitress four blocks away at Gracie’s Corner, where the wait was manageable and the pancakes were reliably fluffy, were about afternoon rain, the prospect of which further softened the jostle of the expired workweek.

I liked it there.

Dana and I had carved something like a routine from our first year east. What began as an exercise in survival became almost comfortable. We’d rented a one-­bedroom apartment with a sofa, a coffee table, and a couple chairs, bought a few things for the kitchen, and mostly ate out. We were in our mid-­twenties, a good time for exploration and discovery and a semi-­furnished life. At first we walked the neighborhood within a few blocks of 90th and York Avenue, browsing the shops and studying the menus taped to the windows before widening the radius to include Central Park and the museums that run practically side-­by-­side along Fifth Avenue.

We began to smile at familiar and friendly faces: the people with whom we regularly rode the elevator, the guy behind the deli counter a couple doors down, the woman who pushed quarters across the top of a stack of tabloids, change for our newspaper. Amid its swirling rhythms and every-­man-­for-­himself pretenses, New York was becoming a good place for us. We were learning about each other, fending for ourselves, accumulating the scrapes and bruises that come with the outsiders’ clumsy entrance.

I’m not sure the transplants among the city’s millions ever believe that life there can be done quite right. There’s simply too much one can’t know, there being so many wonderful layers of people and cultures, so many siren blips and impulses. And yet, many find their spots. There is a life to be had in the spaces of stillness amid the commotion, and that’s where we generally succeeded in hosting it.

The job wasn’t going as well.

I walked with Dana that morning with The New York Times under my arm and work on my mind. A man pushed buckets of fresh flowers to the sidewalk, far enough to be tempting to passersby, not so far as to be out of sight. The paper carried the story of the Yankees’ loss last night at The Stadium, a Cleveland Indians rookie named Manny Ramirez—­raised in New York’s own Washington Heights—­hitting his first big-­league home run in front of scores of friends and relatives down the left-­field line, and, two innings later, his second. The Mets had lost in Chicago. The Angels game had gone too late to make the early edition. There may have been a mention of me somewhere within those pages, which I’d chosen not to read.

It was early September and beginning to feel like it. The weather was turning and the Yankees were in the race, in second place, a couple games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. Life and baseball were moving fast, each jostling the other to take the lead as Dana and I stuck to our recent game-­day habits: me feeling the anxiety and freshness of a new five-­day cycle, eager for the ball and another shot, her fretting that I’d lose again and we’d have to relive the previous four days.

As we walked, we spoke of that afternoon’s start against the Indians, what it might bring, then left the conversation as a pile of half-­finished thoughts. We ate breakfast, the two of us crammed in the way people so frequently are in that massive city, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, yet feeling mostly alone. Dana, I could tell from her clipped sentences, felt the gravity of the day keenly even as she stirred her coffee. What we didn’t talk about I felt in my stomach: the ballgame—­my ballgame—­hours away, too near to allow me to ponder anything else, too far off to do anything about. We returned to the apartment and I left Dana there. “Good luck,” she said with a hug. “Thanks,” I said. “We’ll see what happens,” thinking, Sorry to have dragged you into this. I gathered my pre-­packed duffel bag, and returned to the streets to summon a metered ride to Yankee Stadium.

Even at mid-­morning on a Saturday, the mere four miles from the Upper East Side to the Bronx—­York Avenue to FDR Drive to the Major Deegan Expressway and up to 161st Street—­seemed long. I wanted to be there, into my routine, burying myself in a pile of scouting reports, awaiting game time, a clock that wouldn’t start until the heavy metal door to the clubhouse swung open. Taped to the other side of that door would be the lineup, me on the bottom, pitching against a team that, five days before, had hit almost everything I’d thrown, and hit it hard.

I stared from the rear passenger window across the East River, made dreary by the skies, and considered exactly where it was I was going.

What would come that afternoon, I did not know. But I sensed that something would, something well within the boundaries of glory and ignominy, those sorts of extremes, but something important to me. I’d come from the Angels nine months before to lead the Yankees’ pitching staff, or so the papers said. I’d cost the Yankees three players everyone thought were pretty good, the thinking being that given a little Yankee-­like run support and granted Yankee Stadium’s expansive center and left-­center fields, I could be the ace they’d needed since, I don’t know . . . Ron Guidry?

I won the home opener that year, 1993, going nine innings and beating the Kansas City Royals and David Cone, 4–1, in front of almost 57,000 people. It was an incredible experience on a fantastic stage, a great rush. I was sure I’d found a new home, and surmised I was okay with leaving behind the big contract offer from the Angels and life in Orange County, which included Dana’s family.

The Angels had raised me in the ways of professional baseball, straight out of the University of Michigan, straight from the draft, straight from the Olympics, and straight into their starting rotation. Four years later, after I’d had the best ERA of my career (as it turned out) but 15 losses in 1992, they traded me. Maybe these are the rhythms of Major League Baseball, but they weren’t my rhythms, not at all. Suddenly I’d been transplanted from an ocean view in Newport Beach to a city view on the Upper East Side, from the mom-­and-­pop Angels to the pinstriped, corporate George Steinbrenner Yankees.

There was more, of course. There was always more.

I’d gone without a right hand for nearly twenty-­six years. The doctors said it was a birth defect, which, in my case, was what they called something that was less an issue at birth than in life. The birth actually went fine; the complications came long after. The best I can say is I managed them. When I was young my father put a baseball in my hand, and it made sense, and eventually it put me in a place where, maybe, I was a little less different.

Baseball, to me, was validation. And sometimes leaning on baseball like that was a good thing.

The cab bounced north. I held the approximate fare plus a couple dollars in my hand to avoid any holdups at the ballpark. Best to just slam the door and be off, over the slate-­gray cobblestones, past the grinning, blue-­coated security, down the curling flight of stairs.

Other cars accompanied my cab. They were driven by strangers with their jaws set, starched shirtsleeves buttoned at their wrists, people working on a Saturday morning just as I was. I loved my job mostly, but sometimes got to wondering why it didn’t always love me back. Often on these drives, or on bus rides through unfamiliar cities, I’d look at people in their cars, people in the streets, and mentally frisk them for the symptoms of their lives. What would they give to be in my place, to be a big-­league ballplayer, traveling the country, making millions, regular paychecks on the first and fifteenth, win or lose?

Probably the same I’d give.

Five days before I’d felt like I’d lost, and lost badly. The start had come at the old ballpark in Cleveland and I hadn’t gotten out of the fourth inning. I’d hit just about every bat in the Indians’ lineup, a few twice, always on the barrel, and trudged off the mound having allowed ten hits, four walks, and seven runs. While Dion James and Paul O’Neill and Don Mattingly rallied for 14 runs and a win in spite of me, I returned to the clubhouse, tore off my road grays, and put on a pair of shorts and a T-­shirt. Without a thought, I went for a get-­it-­all-­out run, straight through the Municipal Stadium parking lot and into the streets of Cleveland, which seemed a good idea at the time and only ended up further annoying our manager, Buck Showalter, a by-­the-­book baseball man who hadn’t read the chapter on get-­it-­all-­out runs.

Still, rather than stew in the clubhouse, gauging the relative flight-­and-­crash capabilities of folding chairs, I dashed into the steamy afternoon toward the blinking lights of what looked like an airport, away from the anger and frustration, away from the expectations. All of which, it turned out, tailed me out of the clubhouse.

In the dugout I’d left behind, Showalter turned to an assistant trainer who’d returned from the clubhouse.

“How’s Jim doing?” Showalter asked.

“I don’t know. He’s gone.”

“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”

“Just, ‘gone.’ ”

I hadn’t exactly been Ron Guidry in my first season as a Yankee. To that point, I’d won nine games and lost eleven, and was about to be bailed out of a twelfth that was pretty well deserved. My arm felt fine, though I’d gnawingly lost some velocity on my fastball. My signature pitch—­a cut fastball, which ran inside on right-­handed hitters and had always left my hand reliably—­seemed in the throes of a mid-­life crisis. Sometimes it darted in on the right-­handers, hard and late. Other times, it dawdled across the plate, practically begging to get hit, and, generally, major-­league hitters don’t have to be asked twice. I was inconsistent, pitching well at times and winning, pitching well and losing, pitching poorly and losing, and making all the in-­between stops, leaving me right at mediocre. So, I stomped across the pavement, killing the five-­plus innings I’d left to the bullpen, sweating out the disappointment, full of anger and having nowhere to put it. It’s funny: As a starting pitcher, you’d spend four and a half days training your body and your mind for those three hours, and when it ended abruptly and ingloriously, the preparation, adrenaline, and made-­up images of pushing onward just sort of hung there while the game went on without you. What were you supposed to do with all that stuff? Put it in a sandwich bag and carry it around for another four and a half days? Some of the most grounded pitchers I ever knew had the toughest time assimilating back into the team model for those fifteen or thirty minutes after they were out of that competition mode. I was one of the worst at it. Instead, I’d throw things and yell and hope not to harm anyone.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Powerful.”—Library Journal
“Funny, heartbreaking, and triumphant . . . Still, to label this fine book ‘an inspiration’ almost misses the point. Imperfect isn’t about learning to cope with a disability. It’s about becoming a man in America.”—Mark Kriegel, author of Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich and Namath: A Biography
“Terrific . . . Imperfect can teach all of us valuable lessons.”—Cal Ripken, Jr.
“A story of how to fight, overcome and, ultimately, thrive.”—Newsday

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Imperfect: A Baseball Life 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
rrnyc More than 1 year ago
reading it now on my android - about 200 pages in and loving it - jim abbott is a true inspiration.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read....everyone who is remotely familiar with baseball knows about Jim Abbott and his "disability" but it was interesting to read about how he felt about it himself. I half expected the typical "aw shucks, it never even occurred to me that I only had one hand" type of read, but instead found it to be a little sad, a whole lot honest but mostly a book about a great athlete whose career was a disappointment only to himself. I only gave 4 stars because I found the syntax wordy at times....I expected more from Yahoo's Tim Brown, co-author and presumed editor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a great read for anyone with a disability. Having a granddaughter with the same disability it was interesting to learn how Jim Abbott learned to deal with everyday life.
westfam More than 1 year ago
My son (age 6) and I were blessed to meet Mr. Abbott at the book signing this year. Our son, was born with a left hand that was not fully formed. Our son has a love for the game like Jim. Mr. Abbott is our son's sports hero. During the signing, he was gracious, engaging and sincere. The book was no different. Very honest, open and true. I've seen through a parent's eyes what it's like for a child who is born different, but not through my son's. I found the stories that Jim shared to be helpful and insightful. Even if your not a fan of baseball, it's a fantastic story of living a life to your full purpose and not living a life of excuses. Great Job Mr. Abbott!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not a baseball fan but found his biography to be interesting because I was born with a similar birth defect. His story of growing up in a home where he was expected to adapt and work and behave just like any other child is also my experience. I was especially impressed by his not making excuses for himself as a youth. The story of his no-hitter is genuinely woven through the auto-biography and adds some excitement and suspense to the book -- although you know it will happen the question of how? keeps you turning the pages. I was especially touched by his taking time to meet and greet young children with similar disabilities -- I was an adult before I saw someone with a similar disability. I would love to see a follow-up book written for kids about his early life that could be used for disability awareness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
In a nutshell, a well-done autobiography of pitcher better known for overcoming a birth defect to make the major leagues than for his accomplishments on the mound – which is ironic for a man who managed a no-hitter while on the mound for the New York Yankees.  (Aside: The author does acknowledge the irony of the twilight of his career – when his ability to get batters out made a rapid decline, people finally began to talk about his performance before his missing hand.) NOTE: The author reads his own work on the audio version – a rarity in that format. RATING: 4.5 stars, rounding to 4 stars for sites (most of them) that do not permit half-stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is emotionally moving and very well written, a MUST READ!! As a life-long Angels fan I always loved watching Jim Abbott pitch. I would agonize in empathy when he threw a great cut fastball that was so good that the hitter would get a bloop hit due to a broken bat rather than a routine fly ball or ground out. Several years ago I had the extraordinary experience of having Jim show up unannounced at my grandson's Little League practice to talk to the team because one of the players was born with a hand that did not function. Jim came of his own accord, at the request of the player's uncle, to provide some encouragement. This book is about Jim Abbott, an exceptional human being. He grew up as a very determined individual and in IMPERFECT he shares his love of baseball, the joy of winning and the pain of losing. I laughed, and cried and was amazed by his candor. With the help of Tim Brown, they have crafted an insightful and moving account of the life of a major league pitcher. The trials and tribulations pitchers encounter, and the hurdles they have to overcome to succeed. By the time I was done reading the book, I not only understood a lot more about the emotional highs and lows of major league pitchers, I also had much more admiration (if that is possible) for Jim Abbott, the person.
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efm More than 1 year ago
one man's triumph over adversity
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topmarc More than 1 year ago
It was great insight on a very inspiring man on how hard it was to grow up with a disability and to overcome that disability to become a great pitcher, while there is another story going on in the background about his no hit bout against the Indians.
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MichiganJoe More than 1 year ago
I was a kid when Jim Abbott was pitching. Living in Michigan we knew of him but did not know him well in baseball because he played primarily on the west coast. Of course when he pitched his no-hitter when he was playing for the Yankees later in his short career, we latched onto him for a brief period. I am glad I bought this book. Being his was a native of Michigan and that I love baseball I wanted to know more about him. As a baseball fan the book kept me wanting to read more and more. His childhood was much like mine growing up in the public schools. Not having a true disability myself, but always being the shortest kid in my class growing up, I could relate somewhat because I was picked on a lot for my physical appearance. I also loved and played 3 sports like Jim Abbott and like Jim made it my driving goal in life to become the best in my favorite sport. I was able to achieve that on the high school level by becoming starting for my team by being the starting point guard for Varsity starting in 9th grade and by making All-State my sophomore year. I had to over come taller and stronger kids who were fighting for my position. But I made due with my defense, speed, shooting percentage and smarts on the floor. At the start of my junior year I ended up believing all the rhetoric I was being fed to me about how I would never make a college team because of my height. (5'6"), and if I did it would be for a small school and if a NBA recruiter ever saw me I would be written off immediately. When I weighed the options at 16 of taking a part time job after school to make money for my own car, or to continue chasing the dream of being a pro basketball player, I took the job and quit sports. I always wondered how far I could have gone. Reading Jim Abbott's story makes me wonder if I could have made it.