Jim Abbott’s ‘Imperfect’? Just The Opposite

“I didn’t want to turn on a tape recorder and simply tell my story.”

— Jim Abbott

That’s from the Acknowledgements section of Imperfect: An Improbable Life. It’s easy to see why a pitcher who retired in 1999 has waited this long to recreate his life story.

This book offers a inning-by-inning and chapter-by-chapter account of the fabled 1993 no-hitter at Yankee Stadium. However, Abbott gives us a whole lot more.

For instance:

Player-turned-Rawlings executive Ted Sizemore gets applause for finding the perfect glove to aid in Abbott’s fielding.

Blue Jays scout Don Welke touted Abbott as a first-round draft choice worth a $200,000 signing bonus. Toronto didn’t listen in 1985, making him a 36th rounder with a $50,000 signing offer. Abbott declined, heading for college.

The contract stand-off with the Angels that led to his trade to the Yankees? Abbott offers a wistful, insightful recount of what went wrong — and how he might have reacted differently today.

My favorite passage in the book tells about a New York City bartender asking Abbott to autograph a baseball. When Abbott sees that Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder for the 1945 St. Louis Browns, is the other autograph on the ball, Abbott declines. As he writes:

“I had had endeavored to uphold a life above brands that began ‘one-armed’ or ‘one-handed,’ and detested the notion of someone displaying or hawking the Jim Abbott/Pete Gray Two Good Arms Between ‘Em ball. How awful. With Ventura and McCaskill watching stiffly, I told the bartender I’d be happy to sign anything else, which he refused in a huff. I wondered if Pete Gray would have gone along.”
Abbott hasn’t been the best TTM signer through the years. This tale, and others like it, dot the narrative. The hurler tired of all the focus being on his disability. Relatedly, Abbott’s devotion to corresponding with children and parents coping with physical adversity was one of baseball’s best-kept secrets during his career. With autographs, letters and meetings (all far from the media spotlight), he inspired so many in need. For the casual collector, did Abbott tire of the standard stereotyped praise about being a handicapped athlete? Did he assume all letters would be the same? The book hints at the possibility.

I’m delighted at Abbott’s all-star storytelling skills. His humble sincerity and blunt honesty make for a rare combination in current baseball books. Imperfect is anything but. Read it and get a new reason to cheer for one of Michigan’s greatest diamond success stories.

Angels Skipper Winkles Describes Nolan Ryan As Hard-Working, Humble Hurler

This Topps Card Only
Hints at Winkles’
Storybook Life!

California manager Bobby Winkles arrived to witness Nolan Ryan’s skyrocketing success. What kind of personality did the fastballer sport in 1973?

Winkles replied:

“Nolan Ryan was the hardest working pitcher I ever saw in the major leagues. He was a gentlemen and modest. Nothing cocky about his demeanor.”

Winkles’ resume includes a managerial stint with Oakland, along with longer coaching assignments with the Giants, White Sox and Expos. Surprisingly, he filled in some of those earliest details, long before he was the toast of college coaching ranks.

“I was raised on an 80-acre farm. Biggest crop was cotton. We lived 3-1/2 miles from Swifton, Arkansas, population 526. We didn’t have electricity or plumbing — only pump water — 10 people in a three bedroom house.

I went to Illinois Wesleyan University. Graduated in 1952. Two years in the Army. Signed with the White Sox. Retired from 7 years in minors.

While playing went to Univ. of Colo. Got a master’s degree in two semesters.

Not a bad career for an Arkansas cotton farm boy.

Regards,
Bob Winkles”

Winkles’ story challenged me. That name…

Swifton? Swifton, Arkansas? THAT Swifton, Arkansas!

Hometown of Hall of Famer George Kell. The Post Office is named after him. Seems like Swifton produced more than cotton.

Tomorrow: Retracing Kirby Puckett’s beginnings through autographs.

 

Reggie Jackson’s College Scouting Report

A Veteran Rookie
in 1973

New manager Bobby Winkles came to the California Angels in 1973 as college baseball royalty. The two-time NCAA Coach of the Year, he piloted Arizona State University from 1959-71. His teams won three college world series crowns.

Although he wasn’t a major league coach in 1965, the newly-instituted college draft reminded Winkles that he was in competition with major league baseball. His players faced pro baseball’s yearly temptation.

He wrote:

“The 1965 draft — college coaches weren’t affected too much. NCAA rule — college players could sign at the end of their sophomore year. Later chanced to end of junior year. A high draft pick was more likely to sign because big money was hard to turn down for an 18 year old and his family. I lost Rick Monday, Reggie Jackson and Skip Handcock as sophomores. That hurt our program.”

That second player mentioned? Yep. Winkles knew Mister October long before the majors did.

“Reggie had unlimited tools. He worked hard. There was no doubt in my mind he would play in the M.L. No college coach could predict the Hall of Fame for a player. He had all the tools and he made the best of them.”

Tomorrow: Winkles grows up in the shadow of a Hall of Famer.

Nolan Ryan’s 3rd No-Hitter No Surprise for Angels Catcher Tom Egan

Same Swell Sig!

Teen Tom Egan began his catching career with the 1965 Angels at age 18. I wrote to Egan, asking if he ever felt uncomfortable around his older teammates.

“Yes, they treated me more like their little brother and I didn’t go out after the game.”

Egan blossomed as a power hitter, belting a career-best 10 home runs for the 1971 White Sox, matching his combined total from six prior years of part-time work. His breakout season wasn’t due to any adjustments at the plate.

“Always had the power, just got more at-bats.”

On Sept. 28, 1974, the unflappable receiver may have been the first to predict Nolan Ryan’s third career no-hitter. When did Egan’s mind switch from “good game” to “making history?” Egan replied:

“I knew he had great stuff after the first inning. When Nolan got his change and breaking ball over, the opponents had very little chance.”

 

‘The Angels, In Order’ — All-Star Effort Of Autograph Collecting Done Right!

Nolan
Cowboy
Tom

Okay. Angels fans might not recognize that many personalities on a first-name basis. However, the blogmaster of The Angels, In Order is a role model for all autograph collectors.

This blog showcases autograph collecting done right.

Decide what NOT to collect.

That’s it. Some hobbyists sweat over setting goals. They try to get as many autographs as possible from EVERYONE. Often, hobby burnout is the result. Abandoned blogs and forgotten collections mark such a demise.

“Tom” makes it personal. Choose a team, era or card set and stick to it. Achieve one victory at a time.

He shows his collecting is meaningful by sending customized index cards. I’ve never seen the letter he mails, but I’m betting it’s not a boring form letter. Any retiree would be touched by his devotion to the Angels. I’ve seen great memories jotted down by Julio Navarro and Don Lee. I know Tom will be getting more of these priceless bonuses.

Sure, if a busload of lost Hall of Famers knock on your door asking for directions, get their autographs. Just try to keep a focus in the hobby. Better results and more fun are awaiting.

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