time magazine’s 2021 athlete of the year choice was controversial. rather than celebrating the victorious, they honored an olympic champion’s decision to withdraw from competition. the withdrawal was premised upon mental health issues. time’s bold approach for 2021 should be cause for them to re-evaluate their 1988 athlete of the year selection. in 1988, there was an angel deserving of the award.
time’s 1988 athlete of the year selection was a great choice. orel hershiser’s pitching season remains arguably the greatest in baseball history. while in a pennant race, he broke the consecutive scoreless inning streak held by the great don drysdale. he then went on to be a dominant force in the playoffs. literally, his arm, and one magical swing from kirk gibson, carried the los angeles odgers to one of the most “improbable” world series championship wins in history.
mr. hershiser, a great sportsperson and competitor, would have been honored to have shared the award with a fellow pitcher. this other pitcher, at the time, was known for winning a game that technically did not count. it was a game, however, that made history.
in 1988, jim abbott pitched, at the korean seoul olympics, a complete game victory for team usa over japan. they won a gold medal for an tournament that had not yet been officially recognized as an olympic sport.
mr. abbott, a left-handed pitcher was born without a right hand. with a lot of self determination and work, he crafted a way for him to play competitive baseball one handed. with his skills, as of 1988, he became a winner at every level: from high school, college, and international baseball. he was selected to the usa’s olympic team and led the team to medal. in the gold medal game, he made every pitch.
it was only after olympic greatness that mr. abbott officially became an angel. he was drafted and played for the major league los angeles/california angels. over his career, he played on a number of teams. as a ny yankee, he pitched a no-hitter.
in 1988, time magazine missed the opportunity to honor an impaired indviduals triumph over the unimpaired. mr. abbott, on the world’s stage, showed the amazing competitiveness and contributions of the impaired. in 2021, time magazine, however, seized on the opportunity to embrace the failure of one claiming mental health issues.
it appears that wellness is becoming an issue to be marketed. there are those in the business world who wish to exploit mental illness as a money making opportunity. thus, time magazine appears willing to buy into a marketing moment for those who are wealthy and powerful at the expense of celebrating athleticism.
31 years later, both jim abbott and orel hershiser remain great role models and inspirations for those seeking to be great athletes.
post script: for those interested in learning more about mr. abbott, there is an excellent biography on youtube. within the biography, mr. abbott the dilemma his childhood desire of using sports to accepted only to have his success take him away from his objective. mr. abbott became a role model for the disabled to become active in sports. families raising disabled children looked up to him as an example for their children. in the documentary, mr. abbott often would be called away from the dugout where he would be able to socialize with his teammates to have meetings with individuals who were impaired. his greatness took away moments of his life that he dreamed of having. while he professionally was traded from the angels, he will forever remain an angel for many children and their parents.
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