|Jim Abbott celebrating his no-hitter on September 4, 1993.|
On Saturday September 4, 1993, Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott no-hit the Cleveland Indians in a 4-0 win, completing one of the most remarkable accomplishments in baseball history 29 years ago.
Abbott, a left-hander who was in his first year with the Yankees, and he was known for being able to play with one hand. He pitched in the Major Leagues for 11 seasons, from 1989-99, including the two years he spent with the Yankees (1993-94), the California Angels (1989-92 & '95-96), Chicago White Sox (1995 & '98), and Milwaukee Brewers (1999).
The Indians lineup that day, in which Abbott struck out three and worked around five walks to complete the no-hitter, had a lot of familiar names, players who would lead them to the American Leauge championships in 1995 and 1997, went as follows: Kenny Lofton - CF, Felix Fermin - SS, Carlos Baerga - 2B, Albert Belle - LF, Randy Milligan - 1B, Manny Ramirez - DH, Candy Maldonado - RF, Jim Thome - 3B, Junior Ortiz - c (pinch-hit by Sandy Alomar, Jr. in the eighth).
The Yankees got three of their runs in the third on a single to center field by Dion James, in which Lofton and Thome made errors, so Mike Gallego and Wade Boggs, who were on base, scored, and James came in as well. They added a run in the fifth when Randy Velarde led off the fifth inning with a solo home run to make it 4-0 Yankees.
Mets Manager Buck Showalter, who managed the Yankees then, was asked about his memories of the no-hitter in his pregame press conference on Sunday morning, and he gave this recollection:
"You know what I think about is, somedays the baseball Gods, you go, no way, Jim Abbott hadn't made it out of a start two or three times before that. He pitched in Cleveland, and he didn't make it out of the first or second inning, I remember cause the trainer came up the second inning and said, 'we got a problem, Jim Abbott's left the building,' I go 'what do you mean?', 'we don't know where Jim is,' 'what do you mean you don't know where he is?' He got on his running shorts, shoes, after he got taken out of the game and went running around Cleveland for two or three hours, came back after the game, he was soaking wet. He just had to get it out, he was so frustrated, so there's a lot of talk about him not starting, and we're going, 'we don't really have a lot else.'
"He wasn't at the top of the game, and we're facing the Cleveland Indians, who are really good offensively, and all of a sudden, I'm sitting there in the dugout, 'wow, he got three outs,' alright, he's throwing about 88, 89 with a cutter, spinning it, had pretty good command that day. When they did hit a ball hard, it was at somebody, and about the sixth or seventh inning, I'm like (Buck gave a facial expression showing how gripping it was)
"It reminds you sometimes that things just happen and you can't take it personally, something that shouldn't happen on paper, that's why you talk about all the analytical stuff we have, but every once in a while, you go 'that shouldn't have happened!' It's also why we watch the game; God, if it was that predictable, it would be boring as hell.'
"So, I remember that ball Carlos Baerga (hit for the final out) was hitting him left-handed because he wore Baerga out on the inner-half with a cutter (when he was hitting right-handed), and a lot of third baseman didn't want to play that day, not mentioning names, because when Abbott pitched there were, like, a thousand ground balls to third base, and he had the cutter going, and I coached third base against him in Anaheim (when Abbott was on the Angels before his stint in New York), I got real deep because everyone was pulling him foul. I remember Baerga was hitting him left-handed, and Randy Velarde said later, as the ball was bounding to him, it was like it was coming out in slow motion. His feet were stuck, he couldn't get his arm up to throw, it was like, 'oh God, I gotta get this ball over.' I hit my head on the roof of the dugout with Tony Cloninger, but I was like, I got over, and went, 'are you kidding me?' I didn't see that one coming...
Showalter then said of the challenges Abbott faced, "I'm sitting in the backfield and watching him do drills, and just like watching, instead of not leading the drills, but talking through some drills, I got to watching him, 'are you kidding me?' The things he could do, how quickly he could put his glove, he was one of our best fielders, could hold runners, and I remember walking by him, he had his shirt off, and he was walking away from me, and how the Good Lord compensates for different things, how his left shoulder, massive, like that part (pointing to the circular muscle that goes under it it), throwing cutters, and some of his mechanics, probably shouldn't have stayed as healthy as he did, but I just think the size of his shoulder and his back were such that, and Jimmy was as down to Earth, he would kid about things.
"Jimmy had a good sense of humor, okay, about his lot in life, so to speak, a great human being. It's funny, I don't think we get him around enough, you don't hear much from him, he's kind of a good human being, what a guy he was, and didn't take himself too seriously. Once he got comfortable with you, you did not feel sorry for yourself around Jim Abbott, okay. We got him a little after he wasn't carrying the same, for a while there, 93, 95 with a cutter, just wore your handle out, you couldn't get him off of you, you kept trying to push him out over the plate, and he kept chasing you.
"He was fun to have around, never made an excuse, but he also was part of the culture, that we got better, I thought, people like Jim Abbott, never an excuse, it helped, but he was something to watch work on the backfield, I'd be talking and go, 'holy cow, he just did that.' I would have loved to see him about seven or eight years old, eight, nine, ten, where he was trying to figure it out and he was not going to let that get in his way. We don't hear much from Jim Abbott anymore, do we? Wonder why, speaks well, I guarantee you he was at Ann Arbor yesterday." (referencing Michigan football)
Abbott was part of a Yankees team that was their first contender in quite a while, as they were in a pennant race with the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees finished with a record of 88-74, second to the Jays in the American League East, and that was the last season in which only the division winners went to the playoffs. Toronto went on to win the World Series again that fall, and the Yankees were primed to win a championship in 1994, in first place when the strike hit, and the playoffs were canceled, so we'll never know if the Yankees dynasty would have begun then, and not 1996.
Abbott was in New York City representing the Angels at an MLB Draft event in 2016 where we chatted about that game, which I attended as a child, and he was genuinely thrilled to hear that.