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Jim Abbot Among Saginaw Valley Conference Athletes of All Time, Author Says

New Book Profiles Dozens of Top Athletes From High Schools of the Area

November 2, 2009       1 Comments
By: Dave Rogers

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Jim Abbott on the cover of Rick Sigsby's book about Saginaw Valley League.

Jim Abbott was born without a right hand but still managed to become one of the athletic greats of the Saginaw Valley Conference the Big Ten, the Olympics and Major League Baseball.

So writes Rick Sigsby, of Coleman, whose book "The Valley of Athletes" on the subject was recently published by Dreambuilder Publications.

There can be no more inspirational story than that of Abbott, who came out of Flint Central and the University of Michigan to big time greatness.

There are many other athletes, of course, from what was considered one of the top high school athletic conferences in the nation for many years.

The author recounts a brief history of the Saginaw Valley League, that started with a meeting in Bay City in 1904 with the Bay City Eastern Indians, the old Bay City Western Cowboys, Flint High, Saginaw Eastern and the Saginaw Arthur Hill Lumberjacks.

The new league competed in only two sports, football and track, with Bay City Eastern winning the first title in football. The book also lists all the state championships won by the subsequent 19 teams to become league members.

League executives included Richard Leach of Flint, 1970-88; Tim Tobin of Bay City, 1988-99; and current executive Peter Ryan of Saginaw Heritage. Commissioner of officials John Kirk and commissioner of schedules Marty Gottesman have served since 1977.

Sigsby also profiles:

  • Herb Washington, once the world record holder in the 60-yard dash (5.8 seconds), Rick Leach, Lynn Chadnois, Linnell Jones-McKenney, Andre Rison, Morris Peterson and Coquese Washington all of Flint,

  • Bill Hewitt, Jim Kanicki, Dennis Wirgowski, coaches Garland "Chief" Nevitt and Elmer Engel of Bay City Central,

  • Steve Goss, Brenda Jezowski-Crump, coaches Bob Darbee and Jim Eurick of Western High,

  • Howard Mudd, Oscar Hahn and coach Bob Stoppert of Midland High,

  • Ken Kelley, Dan Pohl and Tom Crean of Mt. Pleasant,

  • Ted Petoskey, Bill Watson and LaMarr Woodley Of Saginaw High,

  • Bob Devaney, Dick Rifenburg and Craig Dill of Arthur Hill,

  • Stuart Schweigert of Heritage,

  • Wayne Meylan, Jerry List and Karen Karner-Michalak of Handy,

  • Hayes Jones, Walter Beach, Bill Tipton and Campy Russell of Pontiac, among many other stars from the Valley.

    But it is Abbott who is featured on the cover of the book and who inspires the greatest admiration.

    Abbott overcame his handicap with hours of baseball practice against a wall, becoming adept at switching his glove, alternately throwing and catching. On the mound, Abbott wore a right-hander's fielder's glove at the end of his right arm. While completing his follow-through after delivering a pitch, he rapidly switched the glove to his left hand so he could handle any balls hit back to him..

    At Flint Central Abbott proved his skill by pitching ten wins as a senior, playing outfield and first base and one-arm hitting .427 with seven home runs.

    One opposing coach ordered the first eight batters to bunt, hoping to unnerve Abbott. The first to bunt reached base but Abbott threw out the next seven.

    In football Abbott played backup quarterback until the last three games of his senior year. Against Midland High in the playoffs he threw for 199 yards and four touchdowns for a 26-20 Indian win over the Chemics.

    At Michigan, freshman Abbott is the winning pitcher as the Wolverines clinch the Big Ten Championship. He is named All American, All Big Ten Player of the Year and All Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year. He also wins the Sullivan Award of the AAU as the nation's top amateur athlete; no other baseball player has won the award before or since.

    At the Pan American Games, he's the first pitcher to beat the Cubans in 25 years and hurls the USA to the gold medal in the Olympics against Japan.

    Abbott makes the pitching rotation with the LA Angels as a rookie and throws a no hitter in Yankee Stadium among other feats in a ten year career.

    After becoming the first one-armed batter in the major leagues in over 50 years, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, Abbott retired. He has since worked with children's charities and is a busy motivational speaker. He lives in California with his wife and two daughters.

    The 241 page book ($19.99) is available from Dreambuilder Publications, P.O. Box 336, Coleman, MI 48618.

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    "The BUZZ" - Read Feedback From Readers!

    toml Says:       On July 25, 2012 at 03:44 PM

    You might want to correct the "Dick Leach" reference to "Rick Leach."
    Agree? or Disagree?

    Dave Rogers

    Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
    respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
    (Contact Dave Via Email at

    More from Dave Rogers

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