...But I Went Out and Achieved Anyway!
May 24, 2005 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Jim Abbott probably shouldn't have been a professional athlete. Born without a right hand, he defied the odds and grew up to be a major league pitcher. In 1991 he won 18 games for the Angels while posting a 2.89 ERA, in 1992 he pitched a no-hitter against Cleveland, and in 23 career at-bats, he amazingly got two hits (while playing for the Brewers). But Abbott (now a motivational speaker) wasn't the first handicapped professional baseball player. Pete Gray lost his entire right arm in a childhood truck accident and, due to the shortage of major league players during WWII, became an outfielder with the St. Louis Browns. His fielding, naturally, was unorthodox: After catching a fly ball, Gray would tuck his thinly padded glove under his stump, roll the ball across his chest, and throw, all in one fluid motion. But if those guys don't impress you, then what about Bert Shepard, who had his right leg amputated after his fighter plane crashed in Germany? The gutsy left-hander from Dana, Indiana taught himself to walk and then to pitch with an artificial leg -- all within the confines of a POW camp in Germany. The length of his major league career consisted of pitching five innings in one game for the Washington Senators. Then of course there was Lou Brissie, the only survivor of his WWII infantry unit, which was wiped out in battle. An exploding shell shattered Brissie's left leg, causing him to wear a brace during his pitching career. The 6'4" southpaw went 16-11 in 1949 for the Athletics and helped himself by batting .267. So...who's your favorite handicapped ballplayer? Eddie Gaedel?
posted by billysumday (31 comments total)
I don't mean to be insensitive, but I would hate to be the pitcher who gave up a hit to Jim Abbott. I mean, what does it take to give up a hit to a one-armed man?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:02 AM on May 24, 2005

Today's story is about a baseball player. His name was Kirby Kyle. [...] He was a kid with a great future. But one day, he went hunting. [...] Chasing a rabbit, he stumbled, and his rifle went off. The bullet entered his leg. Two days later it was amputated. [...] He had one leg, but he had something more important: he had heart.
The following winter another accident caused Kirby Kyle an arm. Fortunately not his pitching arm. He had one leg and one arm, but more than that, he had heart.
The next winter, going after a duck, his gun misfired. He was blind. But he had instinct as to were to throw the baseball. Instinct and heart. The following year, Kirby Kyle was run over by a truck and killed. The following season he won eighteen games in the big league in the Sky.
(Woody Allen, Radio Days)
posted by elgilito at 11:22 AM on May 24, 2005

Pete Alexander won 373 major league baseball games and was mentally retarded. The best story I ever read about him was the one Bill James had where one of his teammates was always assigned to babysit him on the days he pitched because he had this tendency to go off following firetrucks if left unsupervised.
posted by bukvich at 11:37 AM on May 24, 2005

What about Monty Stratton?
posted by dios at 11:42 AM on May 24, 2005

Gotta love Tom Dempsey. Kicked a 63-yard field goal - a record that still stands. Oh, and he had half a foot - his kicking foot!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:44 AM on May 24, 2005

outstanding post billysumday.

I don't mean to be insensitive, but I would hate to be the pitcher who gave up a hit to Jim Abbott. I mean, what does it take to give up a hit to a one-armed man?

thedevildancedlightly, it is an embarassment for an opposing pitcher to give up a hit to ANY american league pitcher. due to the designated hitter, american league pitchers almost never get into the batting rotation. if he is one-handed is just insult upon injury.
posted by three blind mice at 11:50 AM on May 24, 2005

I was at one of the games where Abbott got a hit. Jon Lieber gave it up at Wrigley Field in a 7-4 win. It was against the Cubs, DevilDance, need any more explanation?

I want to say it was a bunt single, for obvious reasons, but a nagging part of me thinks he may have taken an actual swing at the ball. I had a few Old Styles in me at that point...
posted by manicroom at 12:02 PM on May 24, 2005

I should also add that I thought the same thing, however:

"How in the hell did that just happen?"
posted by manicroom at 12:07 PM on May 24, 2005

Best post of the week.

I am such a sucker for these sappy sports stories. Now you all go on... I... I got something in my eye... go on.
posted by tkchrist at 12:32 PM on May 24, 2005

Do mental handicaps count? If so, I vote for John Rocker.
posted by notmydesk at 12:47 PM on May 24, 2005

Didn't Bill Lee pitch a no-hitter while on acid? That should count.
posted by bondcliff at 1:12 PM on May 24, 2005

Superior post. Thank you!
posted by anastasiav at 1:14 PM on May 24, 2005

Bondcliff: Close. That wasn't Bill Lee. It was Dock Ellis.
posted by .kobayashi. at 1:19 PM on May 24, 2005

Pete Alexander won 373 major league baseball games and was mentally retarded.

Hmmm. Documentation, please?

Pete Alexander Bio: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Suffering from epilepsy, haunted by his experiences in combat during World War I and shadowed by the dark side of alcoholism, Grover Cleveland Alexander was able to win 373 games during a 20-year major league career, the third highest total in major league history. He led the league in ERA on four occasions, wins in six different seasons, complete games six times and shutouts during seven campaigns. Alexander also won 30 or more games three consecutive seasons.

Epileptic and MR are not the same thing. Other sources also say that he was hit in the head with a thrown ball in the 1909 season, and document his WWI injuries, but none mention any mental retardation.
posted by anastasiav at 1:22 PM on May 24, 2005

FWIW 3BM, The Brewers are now in the National League.

I'm curious how he or Gray even held on to the bat....
posted by santiagogo at 1:30 PM on May 24, 2005


No I don't have documentation; that is the way I heard it. Thank you for pointing out that sabr link; that was great. Shell-shocked & epileptic & alcoholic?

Well I am not a doctor but that doesn't cover the behaviors I have heard about. Maybe schizophrenia. I will look. The most common term they used in his day for what I presume he was is man-child.

Ex. the big guy in "Of Mice and Men". That is the picture I have of Pete Alexander.
posted by bukvich at 1:48 PM on May 24, 2005

This post should be forced upon new members as an example of what a good post looks like--take something most people might have passing interest in, they expand their knowledge on the subject as much as possible while remaining interesting.

Top drawer.
posted by sdrawkcab at 1:53 PM on May 24, 2005

The Hall of Fame pitcher who was probably mentally retarded, and about whom the firetruck stories are often told, is Rube Waddell.
posted by calculon at 1:53 PM on May 24, 2005

Oh, Lord. You've all posted some awesome links. The Dock Ellis LSD story is great, and so is the Rube Waddell link.

Waddell himself would later claim that his childhood hobby was "throwin' rocks at birds," and that this is how he honed his pitching skills.

Frickin' classic.
posted by billysumday at 2:18 PM on May 24, 2005

Indiana taught himself to walk and then to pitch with an artificial leg

Artificial or not, is it legal to pitch with your leg? Isn't that called kicking? Or batting?
posted by pracowity at 3:28 PM on May 24, 2005

calculon, that link is fantastic. Thanks for the correction/addition.
posted by anastasiav at 3:39 PM on May 24, 2005

The length of his major league career consisted of pitching five innings in one game for the Washington Senators

To you, this is a touching moment in the limelight for an overachieving athlete. To me, it's one more illustration of the incredible lousiness of Senators pitching, right up until they were about to become the Minnesota Twins (Jim Kaat, baby!). I wonder if there's anyone else here who grew up under that particular cloud. (You know why the Senators' first baseman had such an impeccable fielding percentage? He never bothered trying for a ball that he couldn't just reach out and grab. You don't make many errors that way.)

/still-bitter Senators fan

Oh yeah -- great post!
posted by languagehat at 5:02 PM on May 24, 2005

A fella I remember from my mad, cricket-loving youth hand a pretty messed up hand. Azeem Hafeez played international cricket for Pakistan. Toured Australia one summer and played OK.

An institution over here, a comedian who went under the name The Twelfth Man, would make up silly names for opposition players. There was a character in one of his routines called Hafeez Handmissing. When I first heard it I had one of those "it's funny but I really shouldn't laugh" moments.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:04 PM on May 24, 2005

Larry Sheets. Jim Traber. Floyd Rayford.
posted by bardic at 8:31 PM on May 24, 2005

I wouldn't call a 1.5 inch strike zone a "handicap." While the other players suffered some loss, Eddie Gaedel possessed all his limbs. I am sure that if Charlie Findley had been allowed he would have hired a small person as "guaranteed walk" and replaced him with designated pinch runner Herb Washington.

Bill Veeck in his bio From Veeck - As in Wreck
What that fellow Williams in New York didn't seem to realize—or did he?—was that it was he who was gratuitously and publicly calling Eddie Gaedel a freak. Eddie was a professional midget. He made his living by displaying himself, the only way we permit a midget to earn a living in our enlightened society. In more barbaric times, they were able to achieve a certain stature as court jesters. My use of him—vulgaris that I am—was the biggest thing that ever happened to him. In the week that followed, I got him bookings that earned him something between $5,000 and $10,000. I kept getting him bookings here and there for the rest of his life. Eddie hungered for another chance at the spotlight. Whenever he came to a town where I was operating he would phone and say, "OK, Boss, I'm ready."
posted by ?! at 9:04 PM on May 24, 2005


"had a pretty messed up hand."

Some fingers missing, to be exact.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:35 PM on May 24, 2005

Waddell himself would later claim that his childhood hobby was "throwin' rocks at birds,"

Hmm . . . and Grover Cleaveland Alexander (alcholism, shell shock) claimed he built his arm throwing rocks at crows on telephone wires to feed his family during the depression. Urban legends? Either way, great post by someone whose nick apes a famous baseball player/ preacher. And is that a Kanye West reference in the title?
posted by yerfatma at 6:21 AM on May 25, 2005

thank you calculon. I can't believe I got those two greatness guys mixed up.
posted by bukvich at 6:37 AM on May 25, 2005

yerfatma: It's from a line in The Big Lebowski. The wheelchair-bound Big Lebowski is lecturing the Dude on ambition and says, "I didn't blame anyone for the loss of my legs - some chinaman in Korea took them from me - but I went out and achieved anyway!"

And yes, Billy Sunday was one hell of a fire and brimstoner. They just don't "forge em in the fire" like they used to.
posted by billysumday at 9:11 AM on May 25, 2005

Shoeless Joe Jackson, and One-Armed Abbott were nothing compared to the grandeur of Headless Pete Smith.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:28 AM on May 25, 2005

Didn't you hear? Pete claimed to be headless, but it turned out he kept his head in a locker in a bowling-ball case and put it on after the games. Then he'd sneak out a side door to avoid the photogs. One day, though, he got really drunk and couldn't find his head again. Let that be a lesson to all of us.
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2005

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