When I was of Little League age, I owned a book called “Strange But True Baseball Stories.” It was written by Furman Bisher, the longtime sports columnist of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It had a painting on the cover of two Yankees, pursuing what I imagined to be a pop fly. One of the Yanks was topsy-turvy, standing on his head and shoulders.
Strange but true.
The only stories I remember from that book were one about Harvey Haddix pitching 12 perfect innings for the Pirates before getting beaten in the 13th, by the Braves, I believe, and another about a one-armed ballplayer during World War II named Pete Gray.
It’s hard to forget one-armed ballplayers.
Years later, on Sept. 4, 1993, a one-armed pitcher named Jim Abbott threw a no-hitter for the Yankees against the Indians.
Strange but true? No, more like true but not so strange, because in 1991 Jim Abbott had won 18 games for the Angels. He wasn’t a one-armed pitcher, or a curiosity, after that. He was mostly just a pitcher who happened to be missing part of his right arm.
I recently met a young man who was inspired by Jim Abbott, a 27-year-old from Massachusetts named Nick Newell. He was born with a left arm that ends just below the elbow.
Being born without a left hand and forearm did not preclude Nick Newell from becoming an all-star second baseman in Little League and, later, a decorated high school wrestler. It did not preclude him from doing anything he wanted to do.
It did not stop him from becoming a mixed martial arts fighter.
It has stopped him from becoming a mixed martial arts fighter in the UFC. At least so far.
“It’s hard to fight here with two arms, let alone one,” says Dana White, the UFC chief.
It’s also hard to fight in the UFC with both arms at your side, as this fellow from Brazil, Anderson Silva, discovered here Saturday night.
That, as they say, is another story.
Nick Newell’s mixed martial arts record is 9-0. In December, he won the vacant XFC lightweight title, which, I believe, is sort of like winning the Texas League in baseball. Now he has signed with the World Series of Fighting. The WSOF is sort of like the Pacific Coast League, only it hasn’t been around since 1903.
It has been announced that the one-armed kid will fight Keon Caldwell at WSOF 4 on Aug. 10 at Ontario, Calif. He’s on the top of the preliminary card.
People who know about fighting with fists and bare feet tell me Newell really hasn’t fought anybody yet. But everybody he has fought had two arms and two hands.
“I’ll always be known as the guy with one hand,” says Newell, who talks like Mark Wahlberg or Irish Micky Ward, the boxer, or like just about anybody else from Massachusetts, and also comes across as a pleasant young man.
“But it’s slowly turning from a guy with one hand who fights, to a guy who is a great fighter who has one hand.”
Sort of like Jim Abbott. What Nick Newell needs is to pitch a no-hitter against the Indians, or at least knock out a couple of more guys to impress skeptics such as Dana White.
“It’s hard, I just can’t get his phone number, you know what I’m saying?” Newell said. “All I can do is go out there, and fight, and show who I really am.”
But at least White knows his name. A lot of people do, based on the hits his fights get on YouTube. There’s also a video where these guys stick a camera in White’s face outside of some trendy night spot in West Hollywood and start asking questions about Nick Newell’s viability as a UFC fighter.
White stops to answer them, and he smiles the whole time, and he talks smack to these guys in a friendly way, like a buddy would talk smack. And this is why Dana White is pretty cool. You wouldn’t get that with Bud Selig or Roger Goodell or David Stern or whoever the hockey commissioner is.
This is where White made the comment about it being difficult to fight in the UFC with two hands, let alone one.
“When you come back,” White smiles to the guy asking the questions, “tell me somebody he beat that matters, and we’ll talk about getting him in the UFC.
“Listen, the kid’s talented, he’s got tons of heart. I don’t want to see him get hurt. Nobody does. That would be bad for everybody. Me, him, you, everybody.”
Then White tells the guy with the camera to have a good night, and to stay off the Internet.
As for Nick Newell, he has heard it all before. So he trains and he fights, and if he keeps winning — and if he ultimately beats somebody who matters — perhaps someday there will be another kids’ book called “Strange But True UFC Stories.” And he’ll be in it, just like ol’ Pete Gray in that baseball book.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.