Twenty-eight years ago, Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray was awarded the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. He was the last sports columnist to do so, becoming just the fourth member of this small club. The others are Arthur Daley (1956), Red Smith (1976) and Dave Anderson (1981), all of The New York Times.
From The Pulitzer Files:
“One column in Murray’s winning entry told an off-the-field story involving Jim Abbott, the one-handed major league pitcher. Murray described Abbott as ‘the only reason I know of to be glad there’s a designated hitter rule in the American League.’
“The other principal in the column was a five-year-old girl from Indianapolis by the name of Erin Bower, whose left hand had been blown off by a bomb. We’ll leave that story to Murray, but the follow-up is special, too. The girl, now Erin Bower Patterson, became a pediatric physical therapist at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. “
Today, in addition to often being a guest pitching instructor during spring training for the Los Angeles Angels, Jim Abbott is a motivational speaker.
TUESDAY, JULY 18, 1989 SPORTS
Copyright 1989/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Not Only Does He Understand, He Shows He Cares
Too often, the major league ballplayer is portrayed as a churlish, graceless individual who comes into public view brushing the little kid autograph seeker aside, refusing to pose for pictures, announcing irritatedly that all he owes his public is a .293 average or an appearance at a baseball card show for which he gets $10,000.
There are, to be sure, a few who fit this unflattering image. They take the $2 million and run. The fans’ love is unrequited. The record books sometime identify these worthies as most valuable players. The public concept of what these letters stand for is quite different.
So, it gives me great pleasure today to check in with a different kind of story, the account of a major league player who belongs to the world at large, is a citizen in good standing with the rest of the community, a man who cares.
So far as I know, Jim Abbott is the only man in a big league uniform ever to win the Sullivan Award as the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete. He’s the only one in a big league uniform who only has one hand. Jim Abbott is the only reason I know of to be glad there’s a designated hitter rule in the American League.
We all know what kind of pitcher Jim Abbott is — eight wins, six losses, 62 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings, an ERA of 3.45. But I have a clipping from an Indianapolis newspaper that shows what kind of person he is.
The circumstances require a bit of explanation. On the morning of April 17, little five-year-old Erin Bower went with her mother to the local Kmart store in the Castleton Farms section of Indianapolis. There was this tube of toothpaste on the counter. Erin picked it up. It exploded. Some cretin with a grudge against the store — or the world — had placed a bomb in it.
It didn’t kill Erin. It just blew off her left hand. You don’t even want to think about it.
In all the outpouring of sympathy for little Erin, one letter came marked with the logo of the California Angels. It read:
“Perhaps somewhere later in your lifetime you will properly understand this letter and the feelings that go behind it. Regardless, I wanted to send something along now after being made aware of your terrible accident.
“As your parents have probably told you, I was born without a right hand. That automatically made me different from the other kids I was around. But you know what? It made me different only in their eyes. You see, I figured that’s what the good Lord wanted me to work with. So it was my responsibility to become as good as I could at whatever I chose to do, regardless of my handicap.
“I just won my first major league game. When the final out was made, a lot of things went through my mind. I thought of my parents and all the help they provided; my brother and his support; and all of my friends along the way. The only thing, Erin, that I didn’t pay attention to was my handicap. You see, it had nothing to do with anything.
“You’re a young lady now with a tremendous life ahead of you. Whether you want to be an athlete, a doctor, lawyer or anything else, it will be up to you, and only you, how far you go. Certainly there will be some tough times ahead, but with dedication and love of life, you’ll be successful in any field you choose. I’ll look forward to reading about you in the future.
“Again, my best, Jim Abbott, California Angels.”
Now that, you have to say, is the way to get an autograph. And the news from Indianapolis, as reported in the Star, is good: Erin, who turned six today, has been fitted with an electrically-powered hand at the Medical Prosthetics Center in Houston. It’ll do everything a real hand will do — except throw the curve. If Erin wants to do that, she’ll have to learn to do it with her other hand. As Jim Abbott has shown, that’s no problem.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116
What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation?
The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.
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