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Topps honors players who overcame disability

Accomplishments of Abbott, Lester and others celebrated in 'Pride & Perseverance' set

Americans with disabilities make up almost one-fifth of the U.S. population, so it is not surprising that Major League Baseball is significantly represented. Among so many elite athletes are stories of disability inclusion and a unique spirit of overcoming life's obstacles.

Cubs teammates Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are cancer survivors who rose to All-Star status. Giants right-hander Jake Peavy is legally blind without corrective lenses. A's outfielder Sam Fuld and Mets reliever Buddy Carlyle each has dealt with varying forms of diabetes. Astros outfielder George Springer has had to overcome stuttering.

Jim Abbott won a 1988 gold medal for the U.S. and pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993, despite being born without a right hand. Jason Johnson is a diabetic former 11-year pitcher who was the first MLB player to wear an insulin pump during regular season games. Jim Eisenreich (Tourette's syndrome), Curtis Pride and William Hoy (both deaf) and Pete Gray (one arm) all were examples of Major Leaguers who excelled despite disabilities.

This is the 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month as well as the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in the spirit of this recognition, Topps announced on Wednesday that is launching "Pride & Perseverance" -- a special insert set in its 2015 Update Series that celebrates players from past and present who have triumphed in the face of such physical adversity.

"As a game for all, baseball is proud to be the sport of Jim Abbott, Curtis Pride and many world-class athletes who have overcome obstacles en route to success in the Major Leagues," said Wendy Lewis, MLB senior vice president of diversity, inclusion and strategic alliances.

"This special set from Topps is a terrific way not only to honor all individuals who have faced challenges and reached the highest level of their chosen sport, but also to inspire anyone who dreams of one day being a part of the national pastime. We commend Topps, a longtime valued partner, for this extraordinary tribute to players who have made an enduring impact on our game."

In his recent proclamation for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, President Barack Obama said: "America is at its strongest when we harness the talents and celebrate the distinct gifts of all our people. … For the betterment of generations of Americans to come, let us continue the work of removing obstacles to employment so every American has the chance to develop their skills and make their unique mark on the world we share."

Last year, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) proposed a special card series, featuring players with disabilities, within Topps' 2015 set. Throughout baseball history, these players have enhanced the game with their skill, and this set symbolically encourages all with their pride and perseverance.

"People with disabilities are often looked at for what they can't do instead of being appreciated for what they can do. We hope these cards will help people take a closer look at the potential of people with disabilities," said Mark O'Neal, PBATS president and Cubs director of medical administration. "Imagine if a child or the parent of a child with a disability, by simply opening a pack of baseball cards, discovers that one of their heroes was legally blind or deaf or has battled cancer? They would truly feel empowered and encouraged."

At the start of this year, MLB Network aired a special about Rizzo and Lester -- about their common bond in overcoming cancer.

Rizzo was drafted by the Red Sox in 2007, and during that same year he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He underwent six months of chemotherapy in 2008, and that year his family learned that he was in remission. Lester's fight to beat lymphoma already had been well-known by then, after he led Boston to the 2007 World Series title. Theo Epstein, then the Red Sox general manager, had arranged a meeting between the two players that proved helpful.

"Lester was telling him, 'Don't worry about it. There are little things that are going to happen,'" Anthony's father, John Rizzo, said. "As soon as he said that, Ant fainted."

"Little things" have proven surmountable far back in the game's history. Consider Hoy, a center fielder who was one of the first and most accomplished deaf players in the Majors. According to official MLB stats, he recorded 1,733 hits, 1,183 runs, 34 homers and 607 RBIs from 1888-1902. Typical of the times, he had to go by a cruel nickname of "Dummy" Hoy -- a name that still appears on his record today. The Society for American Baseball Research gives this account of a sign Hoy posted on Washington's clubhouse wall during his first season:

"Being totally deaf as you know and some of my teammates being unacquainted with my play, I think it is timely to bring about an understanding between myself, the left fielder, the shortstop and the second baseman and the right fielder. The main point is to avoid possible collisions with any of these four who surround me when in the field going for a fly ball. Whenever I take a fly ball I always yell I'll take it -- the same as I have been doing for many seasons, and of course the other fielders let me take it. Whenever you don't hear me yell, it is understood I am not after the ball, and they govern themselves accordingly."

Now the accomplishments of Hoy and others who overcame disability is remembered. The 2015 Topps Baseball Update Series will be available at

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.