June 19, 2019

Jim Abbott and the Question of One-Armed Power

March 18, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

A while ago, thinking about Jim Abbott and his missing right hand, I wondered how much power he could possibly have generated swinging the bat with one arm. I found this story from the USA Today of March 19, 1991, about Abbott hitting a triple in spring training:

Ever since he began his career with the California Angels two years ago, Jim Abbott has been telling people he can hit.

In Monday’s exhibition game with San Francisco, Abbott – a left-handed pitcher born without a right hand – proved his point.

In the second inning with one out, Abbott came up to bat against Giants starter Rick Reuschel, with Dave Gallagher on second base. The San Francisco outfield moved within softball-league distance as Reuschel delivered the ball.

Abbott drove the ball to deep right-center field for a standup, RBI triple.

Although the Giants won the game 6-3, Abbott was the talk of the 5,848 in attendance, half of which gave him a standing ovation as he went back to the dugout.

“I’d like to say I took a look at the outfield,” Abbott said, “but I forgot I was even on deck. I just went and got the bat and swung.”

Abbott said he got a fastball from Reuschel. “He was being kind. You don’t know if you’re ever going to get another one again. It was fun. I was a little winded; I’m not used to going out there the next inning after running out a triple.”

Abbott said he might ask the Angels for a videotape copy of The Drive. “This is for the kids,” he said of a video record. “Otherwise they might not believe it.”

At the very end of his career, in 1999 with the Brewers, Abbott went 2-21, hitting only two singles, which undercuts the idea that hitters can generate much power with one arm. But as it turns out, Pete Gray, who was missing practically all of his right arm, managed to hit six doubles and two triples in 1945, playing a half-season for the St. Louis Browns.

And I think even more eye-opening is the fact that Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, who had a stubbed index finger, mangled middle finger, and nerve-damaged pinkie finger, struck 20 doubles, 11 triples, and two homers in two seasons worth of at bats during his pitching career. Three Finger, of course, was entirely a dead ball hitter, adding a second handicap to his hitting prowess, yet his power peaked in 1915, when his .341 slugging percentage over 82 Federal League at-bats was a point above the league’s average. Brown was 38 when the 1915 season started. His bat was thought highly enough for him to be used as a pinch-hitter in at least 12 games during his career: he made plate appearances in 493 games, but pitched in only 481.

We can’t really know what Brown looked like batting, but he must have gripped the bat between his thumb and middle fingers, with the stubbed fingers probably keeping the bat from rolling around in his hand. It provided some fraction of the leverage a full-fingered right hand would have given him.

I imagine someone’s done a more thorough of the question of how much power a one-armed, one-handed, or less than two-handed swing can generate. But clearly Abbott, Gray, and Brown were able to pretty regularly generate gap power.

Arne Christensen runs Misc. Baseball, a blog assembling eclectic items about baseball’s history, and 1995 Mariners.

Comments

2 Responses to “Jim Abbott and the Question of One-Armed Power”
  1. Arne says:

    This tidbit didn’t fit in the article, but an old Scholastic bio of him says that he hit .427 as a high school senior in Michigan: seven homers and 36 RBI, and Abbott led the team in homers. And he had a couple singles in a start at dh in his junior year at U of Michigan.

    Also, I see that the Seattle Times’ Larry Stone remembers the Abbott triple in ’91:
    Sure enough, swinging pretty much one-armed – Abbott kind of cradled the bat with his right arm – he sent a screaming liner off the right-field wall and sprinted around the bases for a stand-up triple. No crowd I’ve ever witnessed – not after Kirk Gibson’s homer, or Joe Carter’s, or Francisco Cabrera’s pennant-winning hit for Atlanta – has ever erupted in such pure, unadulterated joy.
    (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/thehotstoneleague/2011351826_25_years_of_spring_training_me.html#continue)

  2. It’s good to see my cousin, Mordecai Brown, being recognized for his hitting. Being a hall of fame pitcher, this part of his game is often overlooked, but you made some good points. Thanks.

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