Book Review: Imperfect: An Improbable Life
After reading Jim Abbott’s book, it became obvious that it was not just a baseball biography. Sure its initial appeal is to baseball fans, especially those of the Yankee persuasion, but it is much more than that. I would recommend that anyone who has ever felt self-pity to make time and read this. After reading it, I felt embarrassed forever complaining about anything in my life or feeling sorry for myself.
The book’s introduction begins with Jim’s visit to his youngest daughter’s school. It was career day. Jim went to the school bearing baseball cards to give to the kids, he packed a duffel bag with some baseball caps that he wore during his career, brought his Olympic gold medal, and his baseball glove. As he recounted, his daughter Ella, asked in the class “Dad, do you like your little hand?”
After finishing this book, it became obvious that he never gave that question much thought while growing up. When he thought about not having a right hand, it was basically on how he needed to deal with it. Jim started out in the world with only one hand; he did not know what it was like to have two. I equate this with a friend of mine who was born blind; he never knew what it is like to have sight. To both of them, there was no loss. It would be different, if Jim had his hand amputated, and knew what it was like to have two hands. .
But his daughter’s question sparked a reflective journey through his life, about his parents and how they dealt with his handicap, how he adapted and faced life to excel at sports. He played sports like other child his age. There were times when opponents attempted to get into his head about his missing right hand. Yet Abbott did not allow it to deter him from his quest for success.
If this book was about a young child who worked hard, became a star high school player, then played for a division one college, pitched and won the Olympics, was drafted in the first round as the number eight pick overall, and pitched a no-hitter for the New York Yankees, it would be a tremendous story. It would be worth reading if it were about anyone. But Jim Abbott accomplished this without a right hand!
In the first chapter, Jim starts with what it meant to pitch in New York City. He was aware of the expectations of one who wore the pinstripes. He refers to a game that he pitched badly in New York against the Indians. Jim never attributed any of his baseball failures to his lack of a right hand. I cannot help but wonder what my response would be if I could walk in his footsteps. While baseball fans appreciated his talent, many looked upon him as abnormal or a freak of nature. Jim Abbott never looked at himself in that manner.
Jim mentions an example of someone who thought of him based on his handicap, and he mentions how he dealt with it. One night after his disastrous start against the Indians, the White Sox came into town. An old friend and teammate, Kirk McCaskill from his playing days with the Angels was on the White Sox. Together, they went to Elaine’s, a popular New York City club one night. A bartender that he knew politely interrupted their conversation to ask for Jim to autograph a baseball, which Jim normally would not refuse. But he noticed a faded signature on the ball, it was Pete Gray, who played for the St. Louis Browns back in 1945, who also played without a right arm. It was obvious why the man wanted him to sign that particular ball. Jim responded by telling the bartender that he would be happy to sign anything else. The bartender refused this offer and went off in a huff.
Encounters such as the preceding embodied his relationship with his hand. In his book, Mr. Abbott never denied that he had a handicap. But he never let his lack of a hand deny him from doing anything, especially in baseball.
This book was written in a style similar to Jane Leavy’s book on Sandy Koufax, A Lefty’s Legacy. Where the writer alternates between innings of a pitcher’s no-hitter and their lift history.
On September 4, 1993, Jim Abbott threw a no-hitter beating the Cleveland Indians 4-0.
I enjoyed this book from a baseball perspective. As a lover of biographies, I found it informative. But as a lesson in life, it was imperative! This book came out in 2012, and if you have not read it, you really need to.