Sunday, June 26, 2005

Rob links to this account of Jim Abbott receiving a standing ovation on his first trip to Yankee Stadium.

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for Abbott's major league debut on April 8, 1989. Abbott was of course a national story by that game, having been an Olympic hero, skipping the minors and making his professional debut in the majors, and, of course, doing so with what most of us would term a "handicap" -- though Abbott had a way of making that an afterthought.

It wasn't a great night for Jim, in terms of his actual performance. He allowed a basehit to his first batter faced -- future Angel and ESPN "analyst" Harold Reynolds -- and allowed two earned runs in the first inning. His first one-two-three inning came in the second, and even two of those outs were lineouts.

Omar Vizquel -- yes, Virginia, Vizquel is that old -- led off the third with a grounder to Dick Schofield, who made a rare error (he would make only six more that season) by throwing wide to first. Reynolds scratched out an infield single, but Abbott threw some groundballs to get out of the jam.

The fourth was uneventful, but Abbott ran into some trouble in the fifth. With one out and Vizquel on first, Reynolds reached on a error yet again: this time it was Mark McLemore's turn and it was of the two-base variety, posting runners at second and third with one out. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but then everything went wrong: a two-run single, a run-scoring groundout, a stolen base, another RBI single ... Abbott was pulled with two outs in the inning.

I booed when Doug Rader marched on to the field to remove Abbott from the game. Actually, I'm guessing Rader came out himself and didn't send Marcel Lachemann out to do his dirty work. But anyway, Abbott received a stirring standing ovation on his way out the field. It was thrilling, and one of the best and most memorable experiences I've had at a ballgame.

The Angels ended up losing the game 7-0, but Jim Abbott would provide many more highlights for the Angels over the years. He was about a league-average pitcher in 1989 -- as a 21-year-old rookie who had never pitched in the minors -- and a bit worse in 1990. But he broke out with two tremendous seasons in 1991 and '92, posting ERA+'s of 142 and 144. He had an 18-11 record in '91, but the Angels were so pathetic in 1992 that his 2.77 ERA only netted him a 7-15 record. And we complained of Kelvim Escobar's run support last year!

Abbott was traded after the 1992 season in a trade of which I will not speak. He came back to the Angels in 1995, about which I've written before. 1996 was an absoulte nightmare for Abbott fans, however. He did manage to throw a triple play against the Twins, the only highlight of his 2-18 season. For all intents and purposes, Jim Abbott's major league career was over. He was only 28.

This whole thing has been apropos of nothing, really, but as there was another remembrance out there, I'd figure I'd join in.

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