In eight major league seasons with the California Angels, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox from 1989 to '96, Jim Abbott had an 80-100 record that included a no-hitter in '93 against the Cleveland Indians. Born with a shortened right arm that had no hand, Abbott was far more than just the best one-armed player in baseball history, but after he went 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA for the '96 Angels, most observers thought his considerable reservoir of talent and courage was exhausted.
Abbott took a year off, then signed a minor league contract with the White Sox in May. He spent three months riding buses around North Carolina (with the Class A Hickory Crawdads and the Winston-Salem Warthogs), pitching in the Alabama humidity (with the Double A Birmingham Barons) and toiling in an old stadium in rodeo-rabid Alberta (with the Triple A Calgary Cannons). When Chicago general manager Ron Schueler called Abbott up on Sept. 2, almost no one noticed.
But as he has so often done before, Abbott, 31, made everyone notice. He finished the season with a 5-0 record, including wins over the division-champion Indians and Yankees. His ERA was an unimpressive 4-55, but even that isn't awful in this era of the hitter. Neither he nor the White Sox can explain his success, but he appears to have a future—once again—in Chicago. It was Schueler, in fact, who twice talked Abbott out of quitting when he was in the minors.
The key to whether Abbott returns to Chicago next year may be third baseman Robin Ventura's re-signing with the Sox. The two have been close friends since they were teammates on the gold-medal-winning 1988 U.S. Olympic squad. "It's good to have Jim back again," says Ventura. It's good for baseball, too.