“Dad, do you like your little hand?”
Imperfect: An Improbable Life is not a standard sports biography. In fact, I argue that it is a book about a man who happened to play baseball, and play it well, and not the other way around. Published by Ballantine Books, Imperfect weaves the first person narrative of a rare sporting achievement, pitching a “no-hitter” (which means no one on the other team got a hit) in a professional baseball game and as a New York Yankee with larger story of how he got there.
Born with a physical defect which left him without a right hand, Jim Abbott, pitched his way out of Flint, Michigan, into the University of Michigan, then into a gold medal win at the 1988 Summer Olympics for the USA baseball team and finally into major league baseball where he achieved a pitcher’s dream of throwing a no-hitter. Along the way he learned how to handle the constant barrages of ridicule, simple fascination, and silent stares of his right hand and come to terms with his limitations and who he was and who he was not.
What I appreciate about this book is that it is more than a “baseball biography.” It is both an outer and inner narrative of someone who did not let a disability determine what he could and could not do in life. It contains a honest, even modest, honoring of his parents who supported him throughout his growing up years, his wife Dana, and others along the way who saw not someone with a disability but someone who had the drive and the talent to play baseball. And did.
One of the more moving sections of the book, which I will admit moved me to tears, is contained in chapter 13, where Abbott speaks about all the children and parents who would show up at the ballparks hoping for a kind word:
I had an idea – an inaccurate one, it turned out-that reaching the major leagues would be a personal finish line. I was never going to have two hands, but I assumed the story would grow old, and some other sparkly object would come along to catch the eye of the sports world and, anyway, by then I would have proven the game was not different for me… I was wrong. The attention from the media was, at times, stifling. The labels remained. The headlines in the local papers in every city we played were unchanged…And even that wasn’t what I was so completely wrong about. I was wrong about the children. I didn’t see them coming, not in the numbers they did. I didn’t expect the stories they told, or the distance they traveled to tell them, or the desperation revealed in them. They were shy and beautiful, and they were loud and funny, and they were, like me, somehow imperfectly built. And, like me, they had parents nearby, parents who willed themselves to believe that this accident of circumstance or nature was not a life sentence, and that the spirits inside these tiny bodies were greater than the sums of their hands and feet.
If you are looking for a different kind of sports book get this one. It will give you something to ponder in a good way. With the help of a veteran writer, Tim Brown, Jim Abbott tells a wonderful story of overcoming and being successful in all the right ways.
I rate this book a ‘great’ read.
Note: This book was an uncorrected advance reader copy via Amazon Vine program. I received a copy of the book in exchange for a review of it. I was not required to write a positive review.