#33 - JIM ABBOTT, P
Perhaps the most inspirational Angels player ever, James Anthony Abbott was born with a stub for a right hand. He did not let that handicap stop him from playing the game he loved, and when he excelled at that game he got the same fair shake that the meritocracy of making the team allows for.
On grounders back to the mound, Jim Abbott would tuck his baseball glove between his right arm and torso, throw a pitch, put the glove on, field it, take the glove off and throw the ball to 1B. His range factor and fielding percentage were often above league averages over the ten seasons he played in the majors. He was taken with the eighth pick in the 1988 draft from the University of Michigan and never pitched in the minors, making the 1989 Angels out of Spring Training. He was 21 and gave the Angels a visibility from the outset that few teams ever got - the stories aimed at non-baseball fans were inspiring. The ones aimed at fans of the sport were tear-jerking. None needed to be aimed at Angels fans - we were all beaming with pride.
On the mound Abbott was like a better version of Joe Saunders - lots of hits, lots of walks, not so many strikeouts as to be considered dominant, but lots of movement on pitches to get plenty of outs. A crafty old lefty when he was barely old enough to get served in bars. His saving grace was one of the lowest HR per 9 IP rates in club history - in 1,073 Innings Pitched as an Angel his .68 HR/9 ranks the eighth lowest in club history.
His first two seasons saw him function as the fourth or fifth starter before his amazing 1991 season. He had a 2.89 ERA on his way to winning eighteen games. His 7.6 WAR that year ranks sixth best for a single season by an Angels pitcher. He threw 243 innings and followed it all up with a 5.8 WAR season in 1992 (twentieth best in club single seasons) and lowering his ERA to 2.77 in over 200 Innings Pitched. Gaged by the ERA+ of 142 in 1991 and 143 in 1992, they ranks as the thirteenth-best and fourteenth-best seasons ever pitched by an Angel.
And so then, in his prime, the Angels traded him. He went on to some success with the Yankees, pitching a no-hitter for them in the fall of 1993. After the '94 season he signed as a free agent with the White Sox. His numbers were league average in New York and he bounced back in Chicago, who traded him at the deadline.
BACK to the Angels!
Sadly, the tale doesn't have a Hollywood ending - the '95 Angels choked at the end - Abbott pitched admirably but the ship started sinking right after he got there. Then in 1996 he had one of the WORST seasons of any player to put on an Angels uniform. He was too popular to bench, the team had no other qualified arms and everything about Jim Abbott was about believing in miracles, as he was the walking, pitching embodiment of one. Abbott went 2-18 in 23 starts. Joe Blanotn's 2013 is widely regarded as the worst Angels season ever by a starting pitcher. His ERA+ that year was 62. Abbott's was 66 in 1996. He was released at the end of Spring Training, 1997. He would come back a few more times with other teams but the greatness on the mound was gone, although the greatness of what he represented was unscathed.
Abbott had 22 Complete Games as an Angel, five of which were shutouts. His rate stats were jaw-dropping good until his return trip to the team. Some things are best left as memories, or as Chet Baker played out... you can't go home again - but you can represent something that transcends all of your numbers, good and bad. And that is what Jim Abbott represents and why is ranked so high on this list. You cannot tell the story of the Angels without telling the tale of the kid with one hand dominating all off baseball while he wore a Halo.